Following the Calf Path

I recently discovered the poem below and love the message.  Sometimes we follow a bizarre and winding path only because it is there, without knowing WHY or HOW or WHO created it in the first place.

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The Calf-Path

      by
      Sam Walter Foss  (1858-1911)

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed — do not laugh —
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare,
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed that zigzag calf about,
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move;
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah, many things this tale might teach —
But I am not ordained to preach.

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Smailholm Tower – Scottish Borderlands – Queen of Ordinary, 2014

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Smailholm Tower, built in the 1500s was not one of the most impressive structures we saw in our journey through Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, but it was beautifully situated and served for inspiration as the backdrop for more than one famous writer.  This type of tower is referred to as a peel tower.  It is located in the Scottish Borderlands and sits atop a crag of Lady Hill, with a wide vista view of surrounding lands.

Sir Walter Scott visited his grandfather there when he was a child and spent a good deal of time at this location when he was young.  This tower provides the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s ballad, The Eve of St. John.    His sketch of the tower was include in Scott’s Poetical Works. 

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Margaret J. Anderson, who wrote the children’s novel In the Keep of Time, used Smailholm Tower as the location for the adventure in which four English children experience time travel both backwards and forwards.

One of the pioneers of photography, Fox Talbot, photographed Smailholm Tower as part of his collection, Sun Pictures in Scotland.

I particularly liked the lay of the land around the tower.  The view was stunning and peaceful looking out in every direction at land that gently rolled away.  I also found a beautiful door to photograph, which made the experience a well rounded one.

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This structure made me realize that inspiration comes from many things for writers, photographers, singers, and artists.  Smailholm was neither grand nor luxurious, but it has made an impact on people through the years.  If we are open to inspiration, it may come to us in places we least expect.

4,000 Years Old and Still Alive – Oldest Tree in Wales – Queen of Ordinary – November 24, 2014

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It is hard for me to imagine a living organism on this earth that is over 4,000 years old.  This yew tree, Llangernyw,  would have been alive 2,000 years BEFORE Christ walked the earth.  It was alive through all of modern recorded history.  It was around when the pyramids were being built.

We were there.  We touched it, we left our imprint.  It will probably still be alive long after we have passed from this life.  I have often thought about trees and the stories they could tell if they could but speak.  This one could fill a library.

Of course, my curiosity drove me to research other “oldest trees,” and I was stunned by what I found.  There is another known tree in Iran, the Zoroastrian Sarv, estimated to be about the same age as the tree we vised in Wales.  These two are mere children compared to the Mac Daddy of them all.

The world’s oldest known living tree is more than twice as old as Wale’s yew tree, and estimated to have sprouted sometime during the last Ice Age, roughly 9,550 years ago. The 16-foot spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden has a root system that got started when the British Isles were still connected to Europe by an ice bridge.

The United States can lay claim to one of the oldest trees known to man on the planet.  Methuselah, as the tree has been affectionately named after the oldest man in the Bible, is a bristlecone pine tree in California’s White Mountains.  The tree is estimated to be almost 5,000 years old.  The location of the tree is not public knowledge in order to protect and preserve the tree.

It seemed that in our month long travels across the UK, God had ordered our steps to connect us with the ancient things of those places from the castle at Cashel, the Book of Kells, Giant’s Causeway, and even the oldest living tree.  I am in many ways still connecting the dots of those things most significant in our journey.  I am very thankful that our stops included a visit to this historic tree.

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