The girl has walked the path to the river every day of her life. She cannot see the end of the path from the start (as she will one day learn is true of most good and interesting things in life).
But each day, the path changes its direction.
One day, it might curve to the left, the next day, to the right. Some days, it cuts directly through the lush green meadow. The path is not being tricky, it is not trying to confuse the girl or make her lost. It always leads her to the river. But it shows the girl new things each day, delighting in her discoveries, savoring the quickness and heaviness of her steps upon it as it leads her one Sunday morning to a butterfly circling an oak tree. It coaxes her up the hillside one late September afternoon just in time to see the sun dropping behind the crest of the far-off mountains. It sees the warmth of the dying sun on her face, and notices the goose bumps that cover her legs as she stands above it in the shade, remarking to itself that it is much too late in the season for her to be wearing those shorts.
The path reveals to the girl its favorite things. Its single purpose is to delight her and lovingly guide her each day. But the girl does not notice the path. She does not notice the changes it takes great effort to make each day, nor the care and love that it painstakingly shows in making the way for her. The girl sees only the lush bear clover that blankets the meadow, the tall jagged rocks with centuries-old grinding holes that she fills with acorns, and the clear cold stream filled with fish that she dips her hands into. And so, the path begins to feel unwanted and unneeded.
Then, one day at the end of October, the girl arrives at the meadow to find the path has gone. There is no way to get to the river. The girl decides she will make her way without the path. But she finds that the bear clover that covers the sloping hills is too thick to walk over. It sticks to her shoes and holds her back as her tugging and kicking fills the air with the heavy scent of honey. Undeterred, the girl decides to go around the meadow. But the rocks and boulders that circle the meadow are too far apart and too jagged to skip from one to the next. The girl skins her knees and cuts her hands as she tries to leap from one to another nearby. Finally, she tries to cross at the cold stream, but it is too deep and slippery, and the moss that covers its bottom makes her slide and stumble. Time and time again, its fast, clear current knocks her down.
Tired, bruised and angry, the girl looks up and yells out to the missing path. “Why have you left me path?! I cannot get to the river alone. I need your help! I’m sorry that I took you for granted, but please, help me now!” But the path does not answer, and the girl hears only the sound of the rushing river that she cannot reach. So, sad and confused and feeling alone, the girl goes home.
Winter comes quickly and blankets the meadow in snow. Each morning, lonely for her missing companion, the girl arrives with a shovel and clears the snow from where the path once began. Each day, her shovel hits rock, ice, and mounds of frozen, dead vines. No path. But the girl returns each day, dutifully scraping the cold winter from that spot. She makes room for her friend, and makes room for hope.
Then, one day in late March, sometime in the night, and along with the spring, the path returns to the meadow. It had watched the girl from a distance that day in the fall, watched as the girl struggled, as the things the girl valued most for their beauty held her back, cut her, made her stumble and knocked her down. The path had watched as the girl cried out for it, pleaded for it to come back to her. And the had path watched as the girl returned day after day, through the cold of the winter, to shovel snow from its home, missing it, valuing it, and loving it in its absence. The winter had brought the path its own adventures (but that is another story for another time).
And now, on the first day of spring, shovel in hand, the girl arrives to find the path has returned. She lovingly shovels the last bits of melting snow and ice from the path as it leads her through the meadow. But on this beautiful spring day, the path does not lead the girl to the patches of newly budding yellow daffodils, or to a puddle filled with freshly-hatched tadpoles. Today, the path decides it will show the girl its favorite thing in the whole world. So it winds off course out of the meadow and down the sloping hillside, into the thickest part of the tree line.
At the end of the path, the girl comes to a pond so still and so dark that as she peers into it, she can see her reflection in the water. She sees an explorer, an adventurer, and a lover of the winding path. She realizes that she is the path’s best friend and favorite thing. And in that moment she resolves to faithfully follow it each day, and to experience every delightful thing it has to show her.
Because what good is a beautiful path, if there is no one to walk it?