Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Path-Marker

"My eyes are in my feet..." -Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (1977)

My dad walked the same path every night of my childhood. In all seasons. He dressed for winter snow storms, for sleet and rain. On clear nights of summer or spring and in the winds of autumn, he would go out into the night for a two-mile walk through the protected wetlands.  My parents moved to Minnetonka in the early 1980's, after the city acknowledged the importance of preserving the wetlands. 

Roughly 20,000 years ago, the area I grew up in was at the edge of a glacial lake. As the glaciar melted, piles of dirt and blocks of ice were deposited and left depressions in the landscape. The shallow depressions my father walked through, and I later on, followed cattails and rushes. I got to know my dad by joining him on his walks at night. I also got to know my self, and the topography of my inner and outer worlds. 

In "The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot", Robert Macfarlane said, quite simply, "Path's connect. This is their first duty and chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension, they relate people."  

The topography of the self is shaped by landscape and the paths we walk early on. I navigated wetlands-shallow depressions, seeps and swales and rushes and cattails, oaks, maples, and elms, and of course, mosquitos. Close to water and submerged- storing, recharging, housing. 

Minne-tonka, my home town, meant water-big to the Dakotah Sioux. To settlers in the mid 19th century it meant a township, it meant farming and a sawmill and furniture shop. Since WWI and to my family, it has meant suburbs where people can live and go to work and raise their kids.  

We internalize the features of our individual path-filled landscapes. They shape the form and function of our everyday hopes and longings. Projected into us early on are landscapes, and we create maps to navigate inward and outward terrains. 

We speak of places in terms of what we make of them-it seems more difficult to say what a place makes of us. 

In our culture, the holidays, the winter solstice, and the new year act as way markings, or path-markers, just as a cairn, milestone, mile-marker, boulders in a river, or blazes on trees mark paths. 

My dad followed the path in the wetlands every night as a meandering river with a singular necessity-to keep in motion.

The marker leading into 2013 draws my eye. 

My feet eyes are watching.

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