Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Theory of Mysterious Paths

My concentration in the last few days has been upgraded from fruit fly to fruit bat. I'm grateful for the improvement, but disconcerted by the problem. I'm used to certain difficulties -a lack of self-confidence, a tendency to avoid necessary confrontation, occasional bouts of a bleak world view- and have developed habits over the years to address them. Paying attention? Focusing for longer than a nanosecond? Being able to read a freakin' book? Those are not problems I'm used to having. I suspect things will improve as the weather cools. I love Autumn.

The weather last week was close to perfect for me. Yesterday and today we're wearing the wet velvet body suit again, as some tropical storm threatens to come through. It's too soon to be Ike, so I'm thinking this must be Hannah coming back for encores, or there's some other tropical storm I've lost track of. I'm not quite Mr. Crankypants, largely because he requires more energy than I have, and I have had the good fortune not to have to do much this weekend.

While I wait for my brain to return to normal function, I've been musing on the idea raised by Birdie and the Midnight Gardener, that I addressed in the previous entry. Looking back through my collection of photos, I realized that enticing paths are a favorite subject. This set me to wondering what makes a path enticing, exactly? I have been down most of these trails several times, some of them over more than thirty years, yet looking at these images still conjurs a sense of excitement and mystery for me. I know perfectly well what lies ahead in most cases, but that doesn't stop me from heading down them again, each time wondering what might surprise me this time.
So, here are my beginning thoughts as to what makes a path enticing.
1. You have to be able to see ahead, but not too far ahead. It can't be too short a distance either though; I wonder if the range of distance varies from person to person.
2. Hidden curves and changes in elevation help a lot.
3. What you can see needs to be beautiful, but there has to be a suggestion that it gets even better further down the path.

4. For me, a dirt path is usually going to be better, but occasionally paved trails can still sometimes conjur the magic, if enough is going on.
5. To bring the greatest sense of mystery, the path should be flanked by something that is too dense to see through, so the path constantly draws the eye.
6. Forks in the road are almost always intriguing, but one trail will usually call a bit louder.
7. Extremes of light and shadow always make things more mysterious.
8. So does dramatic weather, especially wind, or the threat of a storm. Different types of forests make different sounds when the wind blows through. Pine forests sound like the ocean; forests with lots of oaks or maple trees will sound like rainfall.
9. Water in various forms will conjur the spell, especially if it's heard before it's seen. Just running alongside a river or creek will usually do the trick. Crossing over water always does.
10. Many paths don't need the help of light, shadow, wind or water.
11. Strange sounds, and appealing scent can be very powerful draws. Finding the source of the sounds is usually disappointing; finding the source of the scents is usually a pleasure.

Those are my first thoughts; I'll write more if inspiration hits. What would you add?

Further thoughts: Java and Birdie reminded me that temperature can be very evocative as well. Like Java, I tend to prefer shade, but there can also be something magical about walking along in muggy heat and suddenly stumbling into a pocket of cold air. I guess most sudden, unexpected changes can be very appealing.


Greg said...

You seem to cover paths pretty completely; I'm not sure right now what I'd add...though this is timely, since my business of exploring new paths is no secret.

You shouldn't be giving this stuff away, though: you've got the start of the Big Book of Paths by Patrick Lacey right here...something I'd be pleased to have on the coffee table...well, when I get a coffee table.

Nice to see so many photos from all of your wonderful walks! (I still think Mrs. L's hat is the bomb!)

Have a great day!

Java said...

Shade. I am more interested in a shady path than one that is brightly lit. Seeking respite from the heat is my primary motivation for this.

You have traveled many more paths than I have. Some of these things I've never considered before. However, the water element really draws me.

Keep pondering, Patrick. The ability to concentrate will return. Just keep pondering. And wandering.

Birdie said...

Wow, what a great list. I'd forgotten so much until I read your beautiful descriptions. I think about the trails I followed—yes, past tense; I hardly see trails anymore—and I remember what it felt like.

The temperature affected my experience greatly. In the swamps of Florida, the humid heat was a fellow traveler (sort of like your suit of velvet). It added intensity to the play of light and shadow in the Florida summer. Coming suddenly into a cool and shadowy cathedral of live oaks draped in Spanish moss was the reward on one of my wanderings.

In the Smokies, the humidity was cool and dark under the trees. The ruggedness of the trail—rocks, fallen trees, etc.—made it like a playground. Rocks begged to be climbed. And where was that water I heard and could not find? The underbrush was too thick to pursue that temptation.

Man, I need to get back in the woods.

Sooo-this-is-me said...

I really love this post Patrick, the thing is... its all true and I never really thought about it before. I wonder if it could be that we are not alone, that we are part of the experience or connection of all the people who went before us, I wonder if also being on a path means we are going somewhere, where as no path means we are going nowhere.
I imagine I can smell the cool scents of the plants and trees in your photos.

Greg said...

OK. First, there's a local band in these here parts who do a song called "Fruit Bat": video here:

Now, then, paths revisited. Java is made of Win with the mention of shade. A sheltered path is always so much more enticing, the kind where the trees make a tunnel over you; you get that whole portal to another place vibe with a tree canopy.

And Steven, the absence of a path doesn't mean you're going nowhere. It's just sometimes, you have to make your own path. In such cases, always remember: Leaves of Three, Let Them Be.

Butch said...

I go from shade to shade. When in the sun, I feel like I am baking.

Frisael said...

Thank you.

I love enticing paths. (Sounds like I'm flirting with paths.)

I like wooden bridges on paths and roads. There's a covered bridge as you're driving north out of Johnson, Vermont. I'd often times go that way through Johnson rather than the faster way. It was washed out a couple three years ago, thankfully they built another one.

I also like paths where nature looks to have the upper hand and has begun to creep in, reclaiming them.