The young woman behind the information desk was perhaps 20. “Could you tell me where the Boot Spur Trail intersects with the Tuck Trail?” I inquired.
She cocked her head to one side and asked, “Do you have a map?”
“No,” I replied. “I just want to refresh my recollection as to where the trails intersect.”
“You should really have a map, sir,” she said. “Sir,” I quickly discerned, was code for “you look old and stupid.”
Knowing where to go can be a challenge.
Some routes are clear.
Some routes are not.
Some are marked with cairns.
Some are marked with signs.
Some routes go up.
Some go down.
Finding our way is pretty important. In the mountains. And in life.
But even when you’ve found the route, it isn’t always easy to stay on it.
Sometimes we have to feel our way along. Sometimes we have to stop. Sometimes we go the wrong way and we have to turn around and go back. Oftentimes, we need help.
I am fond of saying that if it seems too difficult, we’re probably off route. Ann is quick to remind me that sometimes a difficult route is just that: difficult. Being able to tell the difference often feels impossible.
Which path is the “right” path?
Maps can help. The stories of those wise thinkers who have gone before us too.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” The best path is the one we chose ourselves.
Don Juan told Carlos Castaneda this:
“Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.”
When thinking about paths, I am often reminded of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.
Fortunately there are many routes. There is no “right path.” The only true path is the one that is our own – even when we’re feeling old and stupid.