Down Nature's Paths



Eloquent was the minister's climax: "Beware of ruts. They're hard to climb out of; and when they get six feet deep, we call them graves." But though heartily agreeing, I found my vagrant fancy running off along some very pleasant and rather exciting ruts I have been in.

One could not truly be called a rut; it was "a cut." We called it "The Old Railroad"-a depression as wide as a single-track railroad that led a half mile or so through the woods near my childhood home. A half century earlier a railroad had run through it to the site of a vanished pioneer town. Once it had been an open gash in the earth, filled with the whistle and clang of locomotion. Later all that was gone, and the cut was filled with more wild flowers, shrubbery, and birds than any other locality around.

A path through it was our favorite Sabbath afternoon walk. "Let's go to the old brickyard," we children always proposed, meaning: "Let's wander along the old railroad cut and see what new flowers have bloomed in a week. Or maybe the blue eggs in the robin's nest have hatched. Or we'll catch some 'prink birds' [towhees, named by us from their call] scratching in the leaves like chickens. Or the haws are ripe [if it was toward fall, we would find several delicious varieties]. Or we'll find the rabbits playing tag and leapfrog."

There was never a dull moment in a saunter along that rut. Then we came out on a miniature "badlands," the eroded yellow clay cliffs of a long-disused brickyard, its ditches cutting finally down to the Lake Michigan sands. From that diminutive "Grand Canyon" the shore curved off to a crescent that even "the blue Vesuvian bay" of poetry cannot equal in my memory.

In the nearly half century since I last trod that rut, I have seen some "cuts" in human hearts leading to abandoned homesites and dream enterprises which through God's restoring hand have become lovesome places filled with all sweetness and graciousness.

The other rut was a guiding way. Vacationing on the Cumberland Plateau, I wanted to go to the "gulf"—native name in Appalachia for vast, wooded, blue-misted depths where the streams cut their way through the mountains down to the valley of the Cumberland, the Tennessee, or another river. It was to be a three-mile walk each way, through woods so dense as easily to mislead one. "You won't get lost," said my hostess. "Follow the deepest rut in the logging truck trails. It will take you to the old 'highline cableway for hauling logs up from the bottom of the ‘gulf.' You will get your best view there where two 'gulfs' meet. Then just follow that rut back to the highway."

Space forbids even listing what I found of plant, bird, animal, and insect life along that rut, to say nothing of the sounds and fragrances of the wonderful woods. There was so much that was enthralling that when at last I reached "the gulf," my watch told me I dared spend only a few moments enjoying the view if I would return before my friends became uneasy. So back I must hasten, concentrating on following my rut. Such a bewildering array of side trails! I had not been aware of so many until I must choose my way quickly. But always there was that one deeper rut that guided me at every junction. On I pressed toward the mark-home, rest, and refreshment. Fatigue wore me down till I was nearly fainting. But I held my eye to that rut and stumbled on. Then-oh, joy!-my name shouted by a friendly voice, and my hostess's car to take me the rest of the way.

Life is like that. A deep rut lies through every tangle of circumstances, a rut stained red by the Feet that beat it out. Though it is six feet deep in one place, it couldn't hold those Feet. No more can it hold ours, when we follow those Feet. And the greatest thrills this side of heaven lie in and beside that rut in knowledge and service. Youthfully loitering along that rut, or stumbling westward in the fatigue of age, we find at the end the shout of the Archangel and the chariots of God—if we follow always that rut, the one we ought not to climb out of.


I recall as a little girl seeing flocks of these butterflies sipping water from puddles in ruts along an old dirt road.