Who marks the way?

By Carol / June 30, 2010 /

Growing up on a dairy farm, I had many opportunities to bring the cows up from the pasture for milking. Walking in single file, the cows headed for the barn, inevitably using the same paths over and over until the trails were deeply etched along ridges and in valleys.

I walked where the cows walked, wondering from time to time: Who made the first path? How did that one decide? Why did each cow follow along?

These questions came to mind again when I threaded my way through the prairie this week, stepping along invisible paths known only to me, pointing out plant after plant to a friend. My friend held back, hesitating to follow for fear of crushing a tender prairie plant. “You need paths so people can come in and not be afraid of stepping wrong,” she said.

Pioneers crossing the prairie followed the paths made by trappers. Trappers followed paths made by Native Americans. Native Americans followed paths made by animals. Almost always, some one or some thing came before. Found the easiest or most expedient way. Intentionally or not, that first traveler left a trail that others could follow.

I took my friend’s suggestion to heart. Yesterday I hauled wheelbarrows of wood chips to the prairie and marked paths for others to follow – curving around plants, weaving in and out and around. The result is a bit of a maze.


The prairie plants are becoming so tall that children could wander these paths and be lost for a very brief moment. They could imagine, as I do, being a pioneer, following a path left by someone else, but seeing a new place for the very first time, rounding a curve and discovering a remarkable sight of amazing beauty.

It is seldom that any of us gets to be the very first at anything. My little prairie may be the only opportunity I get to be the very first to mark a trail in uncharted territory. What a responsibility – but what fun – to mark the way for others to follow.

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