The front of the house is a garden of forking paths. Not so sinister as in the short story of that tile by Jorge Luis Borges. Well, it isn’t really a garden, either — that’s on the other side of the house.

A little path of flagstones diverted in one direction, the original “path.” But with the expansion of bamboo, trees, and other plantings, the flagstone path ended up leading to nowhere, or became too hard to follow out. Now the flagstones have sunk to a perfect ground level and are nicely weathered. Their aimlessness and obscurity have become their charm. An old set of chimes, a bird feeder, and a few oversized pots and the path is an invitation to stay and not go that way.

On the other side of the bamboo is a dirt path worn in the grass, unprotected, charmless, and unoriginal. Such is the “fork” and the “paths.”

Something about paths always lures travelers, hikers, and the observant. A path represents both someone else’s effort but potentially someone else’s failures, too. Efforts fail, paths lead to nowhere, and two forks in a path don’t mean two solutions or sides to every coin — to extend the metaphor. Sometimes the comfort of trodding in someone’s previous path is offset by the sensation that this isn’t where we want to go after all

It is inevitable, then, that the best statements about “paths” come from kindred souls like the Buddha or Thoreau. Here is a neat summary by the latter:

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.