A good friend gave me a book several days ago, convinced that I too would enjoy it: On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. It is wonderful when several pages into a new book one feels right at home and looks forward to the journey. This book is about the journeys that constitute each of our lives. Our lives can be tracked, just as an experienced hunter can track a deer. Moor writes that “Without trails, we would be lost.” Even if one chooses not to track one’s life, one does leave a trail. We make decisions that determine which turn in the road we might take. Robert Frost famously wrote about choosing one of two roads, and having chosen to follow the road less traveled made quite a difference. But every choice makes a difference and thus becomes just another tile in the mosaic of our lives.
Choices, conscious or unconscious, become the trail markers of our lives. Over the course of a normal lifetime many possible pathways are available. The possibilities are infinite. And yet, to a very large extent, the choices we make are determined by, I believe, our essential selves. The books we choose to read, other than those required by former English teachers like me, reveal much about our individual ways of being. I doubt if any of us often sit down and ask ourselves this question: Now, what are the assumptions that inform my thoughts and actions? Probably not a bad idea to consider once in a while. For instance, Moor’s book invites me to reconstruct the pathway that led me here to this hill we call home. My journey started in a hospital in midtown New York City that no longer exists. There is another part of one’s journey that is equally significant. It is the not always straight-line path of one’s inclinations, biases, general world view, and ongoing sense of one’s self that determines how one might, for instance, vote in an election. The decisions one makes about whom to vote for, and why, are part and parcel of that arduous hike down a trail often buffeted by existential exigencies that affect how we feel about an infinite variety of things.
Not unlike others, my perspective of things in general, while grounded in what I consider to be defensible values and moral boundaries, is not so cemented in place as to be unalterably inflexible. Inflexibility has its drawbacks. I agree with Emerson who reminded us that a foolish consistency is not characteristic of an open mind. I am convinced that the life trail I have been blazing since my birth at the Gotham hospital has contributed in no small way to who I am, including getting up the courage quite a few years ago to write these essays.
My journey to Hawthorn Hill was as zigzaggy as any-one else’s, but it started when, as a very young boy, I spent some summers with the Crowe family in the little hamlet of Quaker Street, just down the road from here on Route 7. While not truly a working farm, there were cows, chickens, lots of land, chores, and, perhaps my favorite task, tamping down the hay thrown up on the hay wagon. Our days were filled with the things country boys do when they have free time. I learned about guns and gun safety when we would go out in the woods to shoot squirrels or crows. My love of country fairs, which I sorely missed during the height of the pandemic, started at the Altamont Fair where we showed our two Brown Swiss cows. Most importantly, I loved the family, felt loved by them, and the first place I visited after coming home from Vietnam was Quaker Street. To this day, when going to or coming home from Albany, I drive through Quaker Street, slowing down just to give all those wonderful memories a chance to paddle slowly into consciousness. I always think of the first cup of coffee I ever had at Gibby’s diner, still across the street from the corner store. Quaker Street really is no more than a street, at least from the outside. But as is the case with thousands of small towns, their inner lives are just as vibrant and meaningful to those living there as anywhere else, large or small. I have always been grateful that my life trail ran through Quaker Street and led me here to Hawthorn Hill. I believe that each of us ends up where he belongs. The places we visit and the people we meet along the way inform the ways in which we interact with the world. As Moor puts it, stick to the trail, your trail. I think Gabby would agree.