There is possibility at the base of a trail. The opening scratched on the dirt or rock or sand beckons. It waits ahead, out of sight for the moment, like steep slopes or hidden groves of slanting light.
My breath comes quick. Sweat drips from my hairline slowly, then faster. The blood rushes through my ears and into my fingertips. Muscles flex in my legs. Sometimes I reach down to brush the hard line of my thigh. It reminds me that I am strong. That I have traveled far and that I am still moving.
A haze of dirt clings to my skin. Sun warms my cheeks, sketches a red flush across my collarbone. The needles of the pines swish back and forth around me. They are never still, not really. A bee buzzes near my knees. It follows me up and up and up towards the light. My feet on the path but not always, sometimes straying this way or that.
I move. I walk with thoughts of the people who’ve taken steps of the same tempo along the way.
I move. I walk with thoughts of the people who’ve taken steps of the same tempo along the way. Or maybe different, but too close to tell until those infinitesimal differences add up and suddenly they’re a full stride ahead or behind. I walk with thoughts of the people who might one day join, who I want to hurry up, or slow down to match my pace.
My shoulders ache, the backpack straps digging into the soft flesh there. Sweat drips from my hairline and traces a path down my face. I am so conscious of my own breath, the way you are when someone you care for stands close.
I wonder what the people on the trail see when they look my way. What they think in their own sweaty meditation, step by step. Do they have time to form an opinion? Do they see that particular combination of loneliness and strength that brings me here without company? More likely I am just another body in the same path, another stone to step over or fallen tree to skirt.
I am fickle. In the dry red desert I hoped for a stranger to stop and say hello. In the deepwood of the north I wished for them to go, to leave me there among the cathedral of trees that stretched up and up and up. Earth and sky, leaf and wood. To be alone with our contradictions.
At the top of the trail there is a sense of accomplishment. There I stand among the others who walked the steps. But it is a false summit, truth obscured by geographical data. I pause only for a small time before turning back, down down down to the beginning again.
It is only there, at the trailhead, the path-door, that I allow myself to break the silence with my voice, to pause the clamor in my brain with words that are meaningless and not carefully considered. I must go back, then, to the things I cannot let go of for one reason or another.
But I take a little of each path with me when I go. The brushing touch of the pine, the gritty dirt on my skin. The bruises on my shins.
There is a name for the paths we form ourselves. They are desire lines, scratched by our own feet where the trail did not go before.
There is a name for the paths we form ourselves. They are desire lines, scratched by our own feet where the trail did not go before. They are where possibility is born, in tiny movements and reactions that grow slowly bigger. I wonder if I keep walking and walking and walking if those desire lines will intersect with others, or will become the path themselves.
It hasn’t happened yet. Still, I walk. I am filled with life and the beating rhythm of my body.
Images: All of these images were taken on disposable film during a summer living in the Pacific Northwest. I drove across the country to get there, and the trip and ensuing summer were truly life changing.
A flatlander born and raised in the midwest, Kate Connors recently moved to Colorado, where she’s still surprised to see the mountains outside of her window every morning. She loves reading in the sun, collecting maps, and writing down fragments of stories in her iphone notes whenever the inspiration strikes. Find her on Instagram. .