Paths & Pathways in the Garden


I’m going to start writing more about my relationship with my garden and how it makes me feel and gives meaning to my life.  This is something that I haven’t done much of because it is so difficult for me to translate into words my inner experiences in regards to my garden and backyard urban farming life.  I’ve always been big on feelings, but not so skilled at expressing them on paper, and the gift of creative writing has always alluded me.  Never-the-less, I’m going to give it a shot and start writing more regardless of my literary limitations.  As with any journal writing, it’s a creative outlet and leads the way to more self-understanding and knowledge, and that is what is most important.

Sometimes I tell people that the garden is me and I am my garden, which loosely translated means that I feel that I am one with my garden.  When it blooms, I bloom.  When I hear the birds sing, my soul sings.  When I am tending my garden I feel like I am in kinship with all the other creatures who spend their time flying about pollinating or worming their way through the soil.  When the chickens are out and about scratching for bugs and searching for goodies, they are my backyard family, and together we share the spaces in symbiotic fashion.  We are all workers in this place, and we all benefit from the fruits of the garden banquet.  The inhabitants of this garden sanctuary are its congregation; the chickens, the squirrels, the creatures inside the soil, and the pollinators above; and Jan the quirky mother of this place.  Okay, enough already.

Below is an essay I’ve been working on about paths and pathways.


Paths and Pathways

One of the most symbolic design concepts I can think of that frequently is incorporated into the garden landscape are paths and pathways, and they can be played with metaphorically in numerous ways.  Although the two words can often be used interchangeably there are subtle differences between the two.  In my particular garden I would probably refer to my main walkway down the center of the property as a path, but all the other sideways I see more as pathways.

Look at the definitions of path and pathway.  It’s ironic that a concept so rich in metaphor and used so frequently in philosophical and spiritual thought is so briefly defined in the dictionary.

Path = a trodden way; a route or course.

Pathway = see path

A path seems to me to convey a course of action, or metaphorically it involves a choice and a direction in life.  Physical paths are more goal oriented like a jogging path or a bike path.  You get from point A to point B on these kinds of paths.  Other phrases like,” I took the wrong path in life” means the choice of a certain direction in life or “our paths crossed” means that our lives intersected.   It’s as though the path is the central story line; the route we take, or the course we follow.

Pathway, on the other hand, is used more often as a term describing structures in relation to something else.  Think of neural pathways in the brain.  They exist within the larger context of the brain and its functions.   In an enclosed garden, pathways are usually a distinct feature incorporated into the total design of a garden.  A pathway doesn’t stand alone, rather it connects and is connected to other features of the larger landscape which are as significant as the pathway itself.  It can only exist in relationship with its larger surroundings, and all the connected elements become more meaningful because of the existence of the pathway.   This type of pathway interests me the most; the path or pathway that provides an experience and sensation that can elevate the senses, reveal pleasing views, and inspire contemplation.

When I create paths or pathways in my garden, they are not just paths directing one to specific destinations, rather they are design elements meant to offer an experience before reaching a destination.   My goal is to transform something utilitarian into something esthetically pleasing that exists in harmony with its surroundings and reveals multiple views.   Some paths themselves can be the main statement, of course, especially when their features outshine everything else around them, but the paths in my garden are not so flamboyant.  They don’t take center stage, but without them the other actors do not exist either.

One could go on forever describing the ways that paths and pathways are used literally and figuratively in every form of literature imaginable, and as archetypical images that emerge frequently in the human imagination and dreamscape, but the main purpose of this essay is to explore the idea of paths and pathways for myself so that I can more deeply understand why they hold such meaning for me.  Posted are a few of the pathways I’ve created over the years.  They are subtle, not showy.  Some are finished and some are still in progress.  Some wear down and need freshened up.  Some reside in my imagination still waiting to be born. They are living spaces, and they all require constant maintenance to preserve.

Following is a poem by Robert Frost that sums up wonderfully my sentiments about the garden as our life here on earth and the pathway within it that leads us to our ultimate home, which is our reunion with God and the All that Is.

God’s Garden

God made a beauteous garden
With lovely flowers strown,
But one straight, narrow pathway
That was not overgrown.
And to this beauteous garden
He brought mankind to live,
And said “To you, my children,
These lovely flowers I give.
Prune ye my vines and fig trees,
With care my flowers tend,
But keep the pathway open
Your home is at the end.”

-          Robert Frost

Life is a garden containing limitless opportunities for love and joy.  We’re given many beautiful gifts, and in turn we are expected to properly care for them.   It’s up to us to care for and cultivate the life garden we’ve been given, and while we do so we need only keep the pathways of our hearts and minds open and we will reach our ultimate destination in the end.

Lots of good Path Quotes


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