Path or Destination?

I had a difficult conversation with our son recently. During that talk he said there was no sense starting something now because it would take a long time to reach the result we were talking about. I told him he was looking at taking a long path, not reaching a destination. I’ve been thinking about those words a lot since then. Plus thinking about how far down that path he would be if he’d stepped out on the journey three years ago. It doesn’t help to dwell on ‘what might have been’.

A trail we’d walk, now changed from a forest fire.

My husband and I used to go for walks together. When we did, there had to be a destination. He isn’t one to just go on a ramble with no known end in sight. Where we used to live, you could head out into the trees and walk as long as you wanted. There was the road, there were trails, there were logging roads. By myself, I could walk until I was done, then turn around and go home, whether I’d reached a goal or not. But that used to drive my husband nuts. He needed to know where he was going. Which was fine with me, too, because for me the goal was walking with him.

That’s the baby sister by the way, not me.

I think about all the actual paths we’ve walked, and of course I think about the metaphorical paths we’ve walked. Most of those metaphorical trails we’ve followed in our lives still have no known destination. We’re still meandering along wondering where this rough path is going. Maybe hoping for a log to sit on and rest some day.

My friend Jenni is always game for a walk. Here she is in Erin’s Wood.

There have been so many paths that I have turned around on before I got to the destination. But I loved doing that. Just heading out for a ramble, being out in the trees, no destination, no timeline, no goal.

There are also a lot of paths I’ve chosen to never step out onto, for so many reasons. A lot of those reasons had to do with fear. Fear of holding back those I walked with. Fear of failure. Fear of letting those I care about down. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of falling. Do I regret those? Not really. Except for the walks I turned down out of fear of holding back others. One of those friends I worried about disappointing died unexpectedly in a car accident. I no longer have her in my life to hold back, or to disappoint, and those things don’t seem as important any more.

Circling back to that conversation with my son…I have to step off that path. I can’t share it anymore. I can’t lead the way. If there is a destination, it’s different for both of us.

When he was little, my husband took him up a trail known locally as Lookout Point. It’s steep and narrow and honestly, the only trail I’ve ever been on that completely creeps me out. I swear it’s haunted. I don’t hike it. But on that day, my husband told our son to stay close to the uphill side, not the edge. Our son of course went too close to the edge and disappeared. That fast. A log bordered the outer edge but the land under the log had slid away. Our son slipped down into that gap. My husband saw him, down in that gap, hanging on. I don’t know which of them was more terrified. After that, our son stayed on the uphill side.

Looking up the last chute of Lookout.

Whether he’ll do that now, follow our advice, or go his own way, we shall see. And my husband will always be there to grab him and keep him from falling. I’m not sure I can.

Many years ago my husband and I were walking a trail near Troublesome Creek. We were just friends going for walks (so I thought). There was this slight incline in the trail. He went ahead and turned to give me a hand up. I was surprised that he thought I couldn’t make it up on my own. Later, when I finally realized there was something else going on, he told me it had been an excuse to take my hand.

Even back then, he had the destination in mind while I meandered along the path.

12 thoughts on “Path or Destination?

  1. I will always follow you into the woods! You are a forest spirit and I am never ever afraid to go with you! I’m glad I followed the path that crossed with yours so many years ago. 💕 I enjoy the walk and the company, a destination is optional. It is hard to leave a path you are so used to walking on❤️‍🩹


    • You have been on so many amazing paths and always seem, to me, to be so brave about jumping on to new ones, no matter what country or home or goal they lead to. I like your point about how hard it can be, though, to leave the familiar. And boy, when you came to us, you leaped right into the unfamiliar. We’ll never forget the path you took to us in the dark woods alone!


  2. What an interesting post. I get the peacefull relaxation of walking without a goal, just enjoying the surroundings.

    I used to walk in Sacramento mainly with implied goals: I really walked with my dog, but I often ended up at my favorite dog-friendly used book store (one of my semi- goals) and then browsed randomly – though I never left the store empty-handed. Or I parked him outside an art gallery I liked, where he obediently sat (with me peering out the window regularly to remind him to “stay”). But often we just meandered, as Midtown Sacramento was full of trees and frontyards were full of flowers. Now that my husband and I are in Braga, Portugal, we meander around the historic area in much the same way, people watching, browsing cafes, enjoying gardens (a lot of lovely gardens around the area.) And then we often end up at a cafe-bar for a glass of wine before heading home.

    I loved the story of your husband making an excuse to hold your hand. That was sweet.


    • That would be so wonderful to end up at a bookstore! And especially one that’s dog-friendly. When I was in Copenhagen a few years ago I wasn’t sure where to walk because it wasn’t woods. And then discovered exactly what you’re talking about. Meandering along people-watching, ending up at these lovely cafes along the water, and looking at all the history. You’re lucky. And I think you also raise a good point about finding the beauty in a stroll no matter where we are, or what path we’re on.


    • P.S. I was SO oblivious when my husband and I were going for walks. He says he had our honeymoon figured out the first time he met me. And yes, it was very sweet.


  3. I sat down at the computer today to write about a walk I took yesterday and saw this post. What a great example of serendipity.
    My friend and I had set out to wander up thru a maze of old and new logging roads and powerlines roads, in an area I know well but am unfamiliar with now. We walked maybe a mile, then sidetracked off the main road, in a wild and sudden hailstorm, onto a ghost road as the hail gave way to snow. The woods lay ahead, down an old atv trail which we followed until fresh blowdowns, wetlands and devil’s club blocked our way, In our backtracking route we ended up in a true swamp of despair, swimming through blackberry canes which grabbed at every piece of clothing and exposed skin and then, gratefully ended up in waist deep salal and were able to spy below us our route back to the car. We came at last to a creek crossing, the final obstacle before re joining the road we came in on, a crossing I had made many times, during the many different parts of my life I had wandered these same paths.
    I reflected, as I put my shoes back on after the chilly crossing, that I hadn’t felt so happy in months.


    • This reads like it should also be a poem. Or maybe a hiking haiku…and your last sentence reminds me of the wonderful advice I received and repeat so often – look for the things that make you happy and do more of them. Though, maybe, without the hail storm and blackberries? And I love finding ghost roads. There’s always a bit of mystery when you head down one.


  4. Pingback: Path or Destination? — Lisa Stowe – The Story River Blog – THE DEVIANTS. A NOVEL BY SERENA HARKER.

  5. A thought-provoking post (as usual). I’m not much of a hiker (as I see other commenters are). My great joy has been in exploring paths with my equine partner. Sadly, I haven’t done that in a long time since there is no longer any easy access to trails and, anyway, we are both old and not able to handle the physical requirements of a long walk (or romp!) through the woods. In reading your piece, I also reflected on the metaphorical aspects of paths as you have done. I was thinking about the paths I’ve taken by plan and those I’ve taken out of curiosity or pure accident. Regardless of where I’ve started or think I’m going, I often end up discovering something about myself that influences who I believe I am. Once in a while that discovery is like cleaning the smudges off one’s glasses — smudges that have been there for a very very long time. Kind of pulls one up short, but clarity is opportunity for growth … and that is another path that can be chosen or bypassed.


    • Oh, there’s another discussion – why we choose the paths we do. I think one of the paths you chose out of curiosity let you to stories and writing books. And I love your analogy of cleaning the glasses. So appropriate.


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