Why, here, did a car stray from the road? Surely it wasn’t to pave the way for pedestrians – we have two feet, but can only follow one path. Our feet move close together, and together, with other feet, they make a single line, not two. And yet, together, our feet have kept both lines strong. Following in the footsteps of a beast without feet, we have continued its trail.
The line finds a curve at the baseball diamond – rounds out the corners, caresses the bleachers from a distance. A softening, and at the same time, the suggestion of force – as if the path were a curve ball hurtling through the air, barely missing the feet of the spectators. What if we left paths as we moved through the air, not only when walking over grass? Halos, or ghosts, pale behind us, hovering at every place that we find reason to pause.
“topoanalysis, then, would be the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives” (Bachelard 8)
As I drag my feet along this way, I leave no stone unturned – the gravel rolls under my tired shoes, sounding the words that they might speak if they had lips as well as a tongue. Horses are said to move faster as they near their stables, as if home is always desirable over all other places. Here, an urge to get home has shortened the route – or was it in leaving that this path was made? Sunrise and sunset look the same in a photograph, and a path tells no tales of which way it began – only where it is now. This is not my home; I am neither coming nor going, only passing through. As I step off the path, the gravel falls silent, and my feet drag on.
Do the paths wander, peripatetic, as the people do? Do their feet ramble, as these words do, off course, moving the path with the wandering of their minds? Does the line seek ever greener grass, to make it grey? If we could see time, would the paths snake over the landscape, wriggling their way through our city, worming their way down to its very core? Perhaps we find the core at the surface, in these squiggling lines as they unravel themselves, tracing something as inconcrete as motion, and bringing it to life – the absence of grass every bit as alive as the green blades.
I follow the path, well-worn, down to the river’s bank, where it opens onto a sandy shoal. The water sparkles where it enters the river – clean from the water treatment centre. They say that the river that leaves our city is cleaner than the river that enters it. I walk towards the water’s edge – there are no other footprints, mine will be the first – and I sink deep. The wet sand swallows my feet, my ankles, my calves, and I’m up to my knees in mud. The water continues to sparkle, laughing. This is why there were no other footprints – why the path ended at the edge of the sand. I laugh too, pulling my legs out of the ground. I pull pages from my notebook and use them to wipe away the worst of the mud, and then I step carefully, testing the ground at each step, finding a firm way to the water. I sit down on a large rock, remove my shoes, and dip my feet in. The mud falls away into the water, and I begin to wash my shoes as well. The dirt of this path and others comes away in the river, and settles on its bed. When I put my shoes back on, my feet feel lighter; free.
A child draws a line in the sand – don’t cross it, keep your toes away. We’re taught by nursery rhymes not to step on sidewalk lines; to colour between the lines. Those lines divide us, but these earthen lines bring us together. We converge on the same paths, to build the same paths. We walk the same lines daily – toe the line, work for the bottom line. It’s a fine line between right and wrong, but wide enough to travel on. We choose our own paths, hoping that down the line, we will remember these lines.
Coming home, walk near the hanging chains, the broken chains, but not past them. They have fallen, limp, to the ground, but you stand. Turn. Cross worn concrete with chipped paint – find a new way to reach old stairs. Press your feet deep into the green and let it carry you to the door.
Cities are full of fences and signs; prohibitions. People strain against the chains – against a chain link fence. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but spray paint writes bolder than ink. Why is their no way through? Why are you keeping us out? The message is futile, or perhaps just misunderstood. Black and blue scrawl does nothing to bend the chain, could never be enough to break it. In preschool, we chanted the solution: can’t go through it, gotta go over it!
I contemplate climbing the fence to see what’s on the other side, but my footwear choice is less than ideal, so I look for another way.
Can’t go over it, gotta go under it!
I wonder if a rabbit or a kitten could scramble underneath the fence, or what other creatures might make their home in the tall grass behind the fence.
Can’t go under it, gotta go around it!
And sure enough, if I turn back a few steps, a path cuts down steeply to the left, finding its way to the road where the walking is clear.
“And how far the word desire goes!” (Bachelard 83)
Desire is an unplanned path – unsure of where it leads, but in no way directionless. It travels far – sometimes hasty, sometimes lingering. It stays close to the ground, and yet, in such simple motions, finds the liberty of flight. Perhaps it is the ground itself that lifts into the air. The path finds its orientation not by a compass rose or a northern star, but by the bending of a blade of grass in the breeze. In each turn, there is the wild intention of wandering feet – feet who will follow the same way over and over again without ever knowing why.
“Not all who wander are lost.” (Tolkein)
Not all who wander are lost – some are artists. Their feet move over the earth like a wandering paintbrush over a half-finished canvas – adding light in some places, and shadows in others. Their foot-strokes are less calculated, more instinctive – following the contours that are already in place, exploring the features of the landscape, touching a tree here, adding a path there. It is quiet work, as much of painting is – feet tread softly over the textured earth, the woven canvas.
These wanderings will never hang inside a frame – they are not finished enough for that. Rather, they are formed and reformed- painted over again and again, as they sit on the earth’s tilted easel, and spin.