‘I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference’
Robert Frost ‘The Road Not Taken’
I thought I chose that path. Turned towards it, as a sun-worshipper to that wondrous firey globe in the sky after months of cloud. I liked to think I saw myself, thumb outstretched for the next lift to the next life, and found my situation wanting…
When I was young, the autobahns and autoroutes held my dreams. The fast, faster, fastest pace of travel. Had you asked me then if I thought myself as “a hitcher, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway” (Joni Mitchell song), I would have held you locked into a fire-breathing gaze and told you firmly, no. Then I would’ve retreated. Talked myself back up from the fear that I wasn’t anybody’s captive but furiously my own person. I am and, undoubtedly, was. But, as I suspected, only deep beneath my otherwise insistent exterior, I was limited to where the white lines would take me. However quickly I travelled. I held within my bones a small unspoken niggle she was right.
There were places where I wasn’t going. I was never lost enough, always a little too ‘found’, too safe, even though most people seemed to think that a young woman, hitching, alone, was the riskiest thing I could do. I only hitched on days when I felt brave enough. Bravadoed it out when it got dicey. There were times. But I knew, being a lone woman would mean not waiting long. People worried that some weirdo might find me before they did. Screeching to a halt to do their saviour act. This, obviously, I never minded. Most would be fascinated by me, they would be dying to ask why. Sniffing around the question, a dog searching out the bone marrow. I rewarded their curiosity with a flash of my cloak of brash defiance. I pointed out that they had picked me up so, unless they were dangerous, surely I was ok? I would also inform them that, statistically, marriage was a more perilous project than lone hitchhiking. I repeated this often, a mantra, or prayer to an unrecognised goddess.
In later years, mulling this recklessness over, I wondered whether I was proving something to myself. But what? Was I fleeing constraints? Knowing, in a space between body and consciousness, I wanted to put as much distance between me and what I now know as the scene of the crime. The original one, anyway. Escape? Was it evidencing to myself that I was free and alive? Ignoring the spirits, goddesses and gods that ran alongside me, protecting me… or maybe egging me on… Would I live faithlessly as antidote to my upbringing? Did I want to prove the world was safe, or my worst fear, that the world was a profoundly dangerous place and I just needed a twisted way to discover this? I couldn’t trust everything was going to be fine, but was unaware this was what I was doing? Maybe none of these, maybe all of them…
Getting older, irritation crept in, an eyelash caught under my eyelid. A suspicion that Joni had a point about the white lines. Restriction not liberation. Although I had given voice to the thought that the most dangerous wolves were the ones who ensnared you in marriage, I didn’t really believe it. I deployed it as a defence. I had it right, aright, but didn’t know it. Comparing wolf with wolf. Wolves in marriage with wolves behind the wheel. I wondered if I had seen the mask of a wolf and mistook its cunning, yellow eyes for the real thing. What I had actually seen was a werewolf, hybrid of man and wolf, much more perilous. “Oh grandma, what big teeth you have!” I had defined my life by slipping in and out of the white lines, or teeth, of a man-made being. Partly taunting it, partly giving myself the chance to escape what I couldn’t when younger. But I never escaped, only defined myself by what I thought I wasn’t. What I was not, not what I was. Not what I could be. I had clipped my own wings but pretended I was flying. Even in my wildest freedoms, I had managed to grip on until my knuckles were white with the strain.
I stood at the side of the road. Feeling the rush of exhaust-fumed air from every accelerating car. One of them pulled over. Usually, I would have run towards the sleek black object, throwing protection spells around my tensing shoulders. Then I realised that I hadn’t had my thumb out. I hadn’t been asking. Its toothy number plate and chrome lips glinted in the morning sun.
I turned my back.
I threw my rucksack over the fence. Tyres threw gravel at me in disgust, screeching disappointment. I walked. It was as if I had taken a baby’s first breath in the world. An insect welcoming party accompanied me, singing songs of recognition. A crow chided me from a nearby oak, “About time.” I looked at her, but took it. She was right. Grasses clung to my trousers in long lost welcome. Tree branches brushed my head, the well-done pat from aunt to small child. Distant but the promise of future familiarity. I could taste potential like salt on a sea-breeze.
A small dirt track started at the field-edge, winding into the trees. I could smell badger and hare. Leaves promised a dark coolness. There would be wolves. Real ones, fur all their own. I raised my chin and howled. My voice cracked glass, a sore-throated dog. Home yet as wild as I could be.
I thought I chose that path. Now I know it claimed me. I follow the moonlight through the forest. It is time. Time to follow the stars. Time to get lost.
This was my piece for the Wild Words Solstice Competition that earned me one of the runner up prizes. I was very honoured to get this.
Lots of lovely Wildness and Words on their website.
Info on past winners, runners up etc. here –
How to enter the competition here –