Sunday, November 22, 2009

Desire Paths

The other day I was walking to my office at the college where I teach. It was one of those glorious November days we've been having and I decided to leave the sidewalk and cut through a small wooded area. It is a little faster this way to my office but the truth is I wanted to walk through the woods.

There is a path there, a path worn down by others who have walked this way, and on nice days I like to take it. As leaves and bark crunched beneath my feet, I recalled how as a girl I had more or less lived on such paths in Highland Park where I grew up. Along the bluffs of Lake Michigan and into the woods these paths had been blazed by Native Americans long ago and indeed our middle school was called Indian Trail School because of these paths.

There were also trees, which we called Indian trees, which had been bent to mark the paths, and they grew this way, humpbacked, not straight up and tall as a tree is supposed to grow. But these trees pointed to the trail and I followed the trails whenever I could. When I was quite young, I darted along these trails, imagining that I was an Indian scout, a brave, a pioneer girl. I had many "Little House in the Prairie" type scenarios that rumbled around in my head. At times I was a horse and in fact when I stepped on the path last week, what I first thought of was how as a girl I galloped along these trails, pretending to be a horse.

My mother never worried where I was (I'm not sure why, though I usually had my dogs with me). I never got lost or ran into anybody I didn't want to run into in all my years of wandering through the bluffs and ravines of my hometown. On the path to my office, I thought about those first ventures I made into the wild. I was never frightened and I was content to be alone.

Whether as a wild horse or pioneer girl, these were my first small journeys into the world. I made them along these paths, which in fact have an official name. They are called desire paths because they are made by the footsteps of those who want to go this way.


  1. I grew up in Northwest Philadelphia and spent many afternoons wandering on the Indian trails of the Wissahickon Valley. I never knew that they were called "desire paths" but it's easy to believe. One of my greatest desires is to walk on those trails. I try to visit them every time I'm back in Philly.


  2. Once I heard they were called "desire paths," everything sort of fell into place...I understand the longing to take them and to return to them.