|The Calf Path
|This poem brings back memories of childhood trips to my mother's family reunions. We lived in
New Orleans and the reunions were usually held in Jefferson or Franklin County, MS, about 3
hours north. My dad was a city boy, having spent the first 11 years of his life in Dallas, TX, and
most of the rest of his life in New Orleans. Cities tend to lay out street grid plans in nice straight
lines. But rural roads are often anything but straight. As he navigated the continual curves, he
would grumble and mutter, to my mother's enduring annoyance, that every road we traveled
must've started out as a calf path...some poor wayward calf, a hundred years before, had taken the
long way home and, when the time came for a road to be built, instead of (sensibly!) straightening
it out, the engineers simply followed the path of least resistance...the dear old calf's path. I don't
know if he was familiar with this poem - I didn't discover it til years later. But I don't recall that it
was the broader philosophical implications of the subject that occupied his thoughts...it was just
that interminable winding road! (And, sitting in the back seat, with a slight predisposition toward
car sickness, I couldn't have agreed with him more. :-) Nancy
|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.
|[A portion of the Natchez Trace, not too far from the winding roads of our family reunion trips.]
~ ~ ~
|But still they followed -- do not laugh --
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding woodway stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
|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.
|The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
The road became a village street,
And then, 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!
|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.
|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 veneration's 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 on the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their awkward course pursue,
Just to keep the path that others do.
|They keep the path a steady 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!
--Sam Walter Foss
|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 calves will 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.