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  • Austen Hayes

Bringing to Mind - The Nature of Paths



Walking with no particular plan, I spotted this weathered little barn. I thought how resilient it is to stand in a kind of quiet confidence, holding its back to the swirling winds, pounding rains and bitter cold of New England winters.


What stories linger under the hand-hewn eaves? Who planned its size and shape, then lifted a hammer, nailing board to board? What were his thoughts as he worked in the beauty of the sloping green? How did she hope it would be? What were the dreams that pushed him forward and kept her at his side?


I stepped inside to find treasures from days gone by - broken pieces of barn wood, old farm tools, hand made crates. The perseverance of the simple gives us a kind of strength. The old - the once was - reminds and reassures of days we believe more sincere, less threatening. A stark contrast to the trickery and indulgences of today.


Studying these wooden shapes we marvel at man's wisdom; the placing on the slope in the direction of the right light or run of water, the nail forged not to be 'good enough', but to hold steady through hundreds of seasons, the cut of each board a story of care and mastery and appreciation for resources found not on the world-wide web, but on the far side of a field. Man and building - each reliable in their own way.


Visiting the past, the mind feels less cluttered, the soul calmed and the character given a boost. Perhaps there's more to man than possession of the biggest estate, speediest car, most elegant animal. Nestled in the perfection of New York's manicured horse country, a tiny wooden building sends the message to remember when a visit to a friend was by carriage instead of by phone. No push of a button to know the weather when a skyward gaze or an ear turned to the sound of a rumbling river would be the telling. Undisturbed by the speed of jets and texts and instant everything, man lived by the original, most perfect device, his sense of touch and smell, his ability to listen, sharpened and refined, not by promotion and upgrades, but by necessity and practice, when 'virtual' was unknown and physical presence satisfied every need. To cherish this building is to cherish some of what and who we used to be.


A man I knew, his name was Mark, would bush hog the fields at a farm I once owned. He was a careful, thoughtful man, never mowing too early in the season, he would wait for the low nesting birds to hatch their young, then wait again for the day when they could fly. During his busiest times he would show up late, but always show up. Patiently following the glow of his tractor's headlight, he worked in the dark of night as packs of coyotes, hungry and eager to feed their young, stood at field's edge with the same patience, knowing the sound of wheel and blade, started then stopped, meant rodents would be left behind.


I think Mark loved the land as much as he loved his children. He was an arborist by training, a gentleman by breeding, a kind soul by preference. His reverence for life was plain to see.


At every visit he would stop his tractor for a while. We'd talk about his family, the grades of each of his three children, the weather, the field, the new fence he staked around the land. Once he told the story of a client who'd offered the use of his Fifth Avenue apartment, "...anytime you like." "Bring your wife and children to New York for a visit", the man had said


"So...did you go?", I asked.

"No", he responded,"...why would I do that?"


On weekly trips to the city, I would think about Mark. In my office or car, I would picture him in the pastures, taking his time, deliberate and sure. I would think about our lives and how different they'd been. City street or farm, we want the same things...some of us wander further - maybe not better - to find what it is we're looking for.

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The old road behind the barn


In the book, "On Trails", author, Robert Moor*, suggests those who walked before us created many paths, still, a thinking man, true to self, will not only follow, but consider the path that's best for him...


*"We move through the world on paths laid down long before we are born. From our first breath, there is a vast array of structures already in place - "spiritual path", "career paths", "philosophical paths," "artistic paths", "paths to wellness, paths to virtue" - they lead us along a sequence of steps, progressing toward our desired ends. Without these paths each of us would be forced to thrash our way through the wilderness of life, scrabbling for survival, repeating the same basic mistakes, and reinventing the same solutions."


"There is a catch, however: How do we know which paths to choose?"


Perhaps the question was answered long before Moor's birth when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832) wrote these words...


"Man may turn which way he please,

and undertake any thing whatsoever,

he will always return to the path which nature

has prescribed for him."




*Moor, Robert, "On Trails: An exploration; Simon & Schuster (2016)

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Austen Hayes

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