The last month has seen a lot of introspection. I found some things I’d written nearly 20 years ago, that struck me as a perfect look into my soul right now. It is beautiful for me to see just how much I have held to a few deep truths in my life. This story below was copied verbatim from the old printout – with only the location and name of the princess changed. I didn’t know Chelsey back then, but she is my eternal princess for certain. It was amazing reading this and knowing now how these early convictions shaped who I am. And it is a huge help now, as we face this new quest to heal and raise little Magnus. May we all meet on the Old Path. – Jason
the Old Path
I must hurry before I turn back into a grown-up. I have my sword lying on the desk next to me, in hopes that it might slow the transformation long enough to me to finish writing this. The mere fact that I am using a word like ‘transformation’ means that it has already started…
I need to get outside. To go for a walk and think. To shift the weight of the world – if not off my shoulders – at least into a little better position. I am struggling with the idea of my responsibility to society, to my wife and newborn child, to myself. Questions of commitment and financial stability trouble me. Life changing decisions loom around every corner. Happiness, it seems, is a commodity. And not a very valuable one.
When the greenbelt I am walking down ends in a wall of head-high weeds, I wade right in. A little off trail travel won’t hurt, and it will give me a chance to break in my new hiking shoes. Little puffy seedlets fly everywhere as I crunch through the dry stalks.
Ten feet into the dense weeds, a long, red, thorny tendril ambushes me. In my effort to escape one, another ensnares me – ripping into me. I cover my eyes and push forward. Thorns poke through my clothes and dig painfully into my skin. I stop – caught fast, concerned about tearing my new Patagonia pants and jacket and my tender flesh underneath.
Desperate, I look around. In the approaching twilight my eyes focus on the encroaching tendrils. They are everywhere – twisting among the weeds. Camouflaged and sneaky, the thick briar patch has me surrounded. I reach up to remove the vine fixed to my head, only to have another one attack from behind and entwine my elbow. I stand immobile. Minutes tick by. Somewhere in this limbo I forget about my new clothes. I stop thinking about my responsibilities, stability, or happiness.
And in this instant, I stop being trapped.
I discover the Old Path. I accept my situation and embrace the challenge. My eyes twinkle with anticipation. Gritting my teeth, I push deeper into the briars, determined to follow the Old Path. My pants fight the plant’s deadly thorns, and where the pants fail – I bleed. Heroic battle after heroic battle melds together into a timeless journey. And then I am there.
The Old Path. Faint. Faded. Ignored by most, cherished by a few. But I am one of the few. Aren’t I? I close my eyes and breathe deeply, taking in the essence of the place. It is time to begin.
I look down to a churning creek at my feet. It criss-crosses the path. Together they wend a course off to my left, further into the heart of this dangerous place. I do not look for a way out. I know that many places worth going to are guarded by sharp things and dangerous paths. And they definitely require a bit of daring. With this in mind, I leap over the water, duck under a branch, and head up the creek. The ground is soft, mud squishing under my boots as I run along the bank – a thin line between falling into the water on my left and being snagged by the thorny tendrils on the right. Coming to a precarious wooden plank, I cross without hesitation. Although terribly overgrown, the path is easy to follow with a keen eye.
I cross the stream again (this time on wobbly rocks), and a wicked vine sinks its teeth into my hat yanking it from my head. I turn back just as it drops my hat toward the current below. A selfless lunge and a lucky grasp follow. The hat is saved. My balance is lost. Again, a lucky grasp intervenes. This time though, my other hand catches a strong strand of the spiky vegetation and pulls hard enough to keep me on dry land.
The price paid is small considering. A tooth of the plant is deeply imbedded into the meaty web between my index finger and thumb. Plants this vicious in such a dark and dangerous places will be poisonous. Quick and delicate removal is a must. I tug at it gently with unevenly bitten fingernails (consequences of my recent worries no doubt), to no avail. Spying the branch that caused the wound, I carefully remove two of the larger thorns. Using them as makeshift tweezers – I set to work.
The task demands attention, but a small part of me drifts. I am able to go above and beyond to an out-of-body perspective. I am in a magical place; my body a magical machine; my mind a magical dream. Time stops. A smile spreads. Skin relaxes. My aim is true. The thorn capitulates.
Capitulates?!? The transformation (Oh my god! ‘Transformation’ and ‘Capitulates’ in the same sentence!) must be nearing completion. I need more time. I glance down at my sword. Where is it? All I see is a wooden stick besides my chair. No wait…that is my sword. I pick it up and wave it through the air, remembering…
I find it in the meadow that the path leads to. Rusty and neglected, it is stuck in the ground amidst the high grass – forgotten by some previous traveler of the Old Path – waiting for someone to remember it. Waiting for me. I swing it around getting a feel for the heft and balance of it. Light as a stick, it swishes through the air, scalping this weed and decapitating the next. Heedless of time, I practice and practice. Parry…lunge. Parry…slice. Parry…feint… It is soon clear that the lunges are quite ineffective against the thin weeds, so I concentrate more on the slices. Weed tops litter the ground around me, and I am covered with their dry dusty blood. I know that I am ready. I look further down the Old Path to where it disappears near the river. It is time to finish my quest.
I make my way back into the thick of it. I struggle to follow a tiny trail barely visible as it crosses the water. It is shallow here, and the brambles are thick. My sword is invaluable, slashing and slicing as I fight my way forward.
Before long, I come to a wall of vegetation. I lower my sword. It is useless here. I take a moment to smile at everything, and then I peer through the wall into the clearing beyond. There must be a way through. I will find a way in. My smile turns hard, teeth grit, and with sheer joy I throw myself forward.
Thorns tear at my face, my hands, my clothes. Vines wrap around my legs pulling me toward the ground. I tumble down and away, forcing my body forwards still. I hit the earth with a thud and roll. Bleeding and breathless, I am free.
Face first in the wet ground, I spot something gleaming in front of me. I curl my fingers around it, knowing somehow that my quest is complete. I stand up, still clutching my sword in one hand. Unclenching the other, I gaze for a moment at the giant white pearl inside. It is the size of an egg and covered in dirt, but it gleams where I wipe the mud away. I tuck it inside of my pocket and continue.
I move along the edge of the clearing, eager to get back to the Old Path. It is close to dark, and I am not to keen on getting caught out here alone in the black. I am brave – not stupid.
My mind wanders while I walk.
Aaarggh! – Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! A small group of weeds has mounted a final attack. It takes me only a moment to regain my poise – as I leap back and cut through them with a swift and decisive blow. Minutes later I find my way blocked by a barbed wire fence. Just another challenge to overcome I guess. I am glad to know that this magical place of adventure is well guarded.
Not many would venture past these barbs. I, however, will. I crawl through on my belly just inches below the sharpened rusty teeth. And then I am back – on the Old Path.
I travel back across the wobbly rocks and along the narrow bank. When I reach the place where the wooden plank had been, it is gone. I leap the river instead. Before I know it, I am back where I’d begun. This time however, I am not stuck.
I am able to stay on the path, and with a little help from my sword I stay free of the thorns. When I reach the edge of the briars, I hesitate. Ahead of me lays a manicured neighborhood greenbelt near 15th street on the outskirts of Bend, Oregon. Behind me is a wild place, full of raw adventure, simplicity, and dazzling beauty. It was a place that only those following the Old Path could find. And the Old Path is reserved – for the young.
I step out onto the grass of the greenbelt. I am young. I am simple. I have recovered a beautiful pearl to give to my beautiful princess Chelsey Marie. I feel a commitment to the sky. I feel a commitment to our love. A love for our boys. I have a responsibility to my smile and a smile for my soul. When I look back, all I can see is an impasse of weeds. But I am not dismayed. The sword still gleams in my hand, and I can feel the weight of the pearl in my pocket.
Sitting here in front of the computer I look down at the stick by my side. In my pocket sits a muddy golf ball. I think back on my journey, and realization dawns. Responsibility, commitment, and stability are part of life. Decisions do not need to be all or nothing. And it is okay to be scared, and sometimes it is even a necessity. I must not be afraid to grow up. At the same time, I will remain young. My soul demands it. It is on the Old Path that I am forever young.
And I find the Old Path every time I venture into the mountains, or paddle out into the ocean. I find it in the jumbled boulders of Joshua Tree, in the vast plains of North Dakota, and in the majestic desolation of Patagonia. But I also find it here in my backyard. And in my imagination, as soon as I remember how to let go.