21 July, 2016
Alice, lost in Wonderland, asked the Cheshire Cat.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
But whichever way we go, we need some way to follow. Today it seems that there are more options than before, and it is harder than ever to decide which one is best.
Robert Frost chose the less trodden path.
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.’
The path, well-trodden or not, is usually forwards, not the back and forth path that we use every day, for example going to work and then coming home. But although we end up in the evening where we started in the morning, we are moving forwards all the time. It is like walking up and down in the same railway carriage. The train is always taking us on.
We walk for pleasure, to clear the head and tire the body, and to escape from the confines of the house. A house can be a prison. So we like to go out and walk even in the rain. A walk is a sip of good health. After a good trudge we come home in a better mood than when we left. Some of us aim at a certain landmark. We go as far as the old oak on the hill perhaps, where we turn round and walk back again.
The thing is never to look back. Always go onwards.
Here in Mallorca there has never been an established network of public footpaths. The Mallorcan who has recently landed in England or Wales is amazed to find paths through fields and woods, all with convenient signposts, kissing gates and stiles. There were always tracks through the Sierra de Tramuntana in the north of the island which served as a necessary way for people to reach their fields or walk to the market in the next village. They were for day to day needs and not for the pleasure of walking. Some of these actually went through private properties and gardens. In fact, the landowners would position these paths near the house so that they could see who was passing and what they were doing. This worked well when only a handful of villagers used the path each month. Now, however, we live in a time of mass tourism when planes full of holidaymakers queue in the sky over the island to land at Son San Joan Airport and three or four cruise ships bring in more than ten thousand visitors in a single day.
Now hundreds of walkers use the paths that were once remote, and the landowners who used to check on the passers-by are now inspected and photographed by the inquisitive tourist. The less sociable of them have closed the paths altogether while the more tolerant have rerouted them around the outside of the wall which encloses their property.
The whirligig of time brings in many changes!
Sometimes there is no need to find a path at all because people come to you.
‘Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.’
Following a path is a way through the world and is often not the easy option. Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Narrow is the way that leads to life’?
For Ophelia the straight and narrow path became ‘the steep and thorny way to heaven’, and she warned her brother against ‘the primrose path to dalliance’. What a pity that primroses should lead us astray! But beauty perhaps cannot always be trusted. How many people have been led down the garden path!
Whenever we follow a path, we follow all those who have walked along it. But it is still the first time for each of us, however well-travelled the path may be. Ask young lovers!
The final word comes from the Andalusian poet, Antonio Machado, who found great love and great sorrow in the cold town of Soria in the north of Spain.
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Traveller, there is no path,
You make your path as you walk.