The Northern Michigan JournalPREVIOUSNEXT

The Path Always Taken
by Duncan Sprattmoran
Every day in the winter I walk from the house to the car and back through the woods that separate my house from the road. It's a seven minute walk under normal conditions, though it can take longer or seem much shorter depending on all sort of extraneous factors such as weather, attitude, load. Lately, since it is January and the temperatures have been hovering just above zero degrees Fahrenheit, the snow squeaks under foot and my breath hangs vaporous before my face and I think that this was the human condition for most generations of men and women, this abrupt cooperation with the cold. Now I am the unusual one, the one who does not go from heated house into the protected confines of an idling car. I walk through beech, wild cherry, red maple, oak and hemlock. These last are my favorite moments, when I walk beneath canopies reaching eighty feet into the sky. Among their rich russet trunks I feel a remembrance of the primeval. To think that all forests used to stand so tall.

Maggie and I made a conscious decision to make this walk a daily part of our lives. We could, like most others here in the North who live with winter, from warmth to warmth, or we could have invested the money to buy an old plow and then we would have struggled against the snow like so many of our neighbors just so we could have a clear shot from the road to the door. Both of these choices involved more hardship than they seemed to merit; after all the time and money spent what would we have really gained. As it is we carve out a small, twenty by twenty parking space off the side of the road beyond the reach of the thrown snow and we pack a trail through the woods.

Snow is an adversary to so many. People complain about the hardships snow involves: bad roads, heavy load on roofs, the hassles of deciding which shovel to buy. When I watch the extremes my friends and neighbors go to in order to clear the snow, I wonder what it is all for. After all those tons of snow have been pushed from one place to another, churned through an auger and thrown into mounds around the yard, scooped in front end loaders and dumped in dump trucks to be carted out into broader fields, after all these calories have been expended to move the snow, it seems much simpler to learn to adapt to the seasonal changes in precipitation.

Throughout the warm months when only on my rambles do I take the path through the woods, I await snow. For once snow falls I must, by design, live in it, sledding my groceries to the house, dashing down the path in the mornings to get to work, ambling along at midnight with only starshine reflected on the snow. These moments make me aware that so much of my life is a serendipitous admixture of intention and spontaneity. Where the two come together I find the mystery and reward which give this life its purpose. And even though I tire of the walk by March and wish to be able just to get in my car as zoom to work, I would not give up the walk through the woods, the shadows on the snow, the occasional tete a tete with the owl which winters over.

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