Clearing a Path

When clearing a new path, it is a lot more fun to hack away and move forward than it is to clean up the mess you are leaving behind. This insight came to me while clearing a new path on the acre-and-a-half that David and I call Aunt Helen’s Land.

It’s ‘Aunt Helen’s Land’ because when we purchased it back in 1996, the money came from a surprise legacy left to David by his Aunt Helen. She had lived and died in Ohio and never saw this property or had anything to do with it, other than to unknowingly help us buy it.

Older rhodies in the dense woods are tall and spindly, reaching as high as 30 feet. The young ones start from seed, or from the base of an oldster.

Aunt Helen’s Land is thickly wooded with tall cedars, hemlock, and fir trees. Mature native rhododendron and salal crowd the understory.

To help finance our move into town, we are preparing to sell Aunt Helen’s Land, and that’s why I’m clearing the path. We want to be able to let prospective buyers walk through the property and see all its corners without needing to bring a machete and GPS device along with them.

We started our path-making from the back corner of Aunt Helen’s Land that just touches our own house property. The finished trail will end where a new driveway provides access from the public road. Prospective buyers will come to Aunt Helen’s Land from the driveway, so the “end” of the path I’m making will end up as its beginning.

Cloppers in the woods

My path-clearing tools consist of cloppers, hand saw, rake, shovel, pickax, and wheelbarrow. I forge ahead mostly with the cloppers, hacking through dense salal, trimming back the occasional rhodie branch that extends into the pathway. Every once in a while I need the saw to laboriously remove an overhanging cedar or fir branch, but mostly I manage to steer around the hard stuff.

Oh, it’s fun to forge ahead! Salal is a soft shrub that yields to the blade without much fight. My cloppers slice through one branch after another, right down to the root line, clop-clop-clop. Looking up, I’m always pleasantly surprised at how far I’ve come. It feels so good that I want to keep going, and going, and not stop till the end.

But when I turn around around to admire the results of all that hard work, what do I see? Not the woodsy trail of my dreams, but a swath of debris so thick, the forest floor is hidden under mounds of sticks and leaves.

Believe it or not, there’s a clear path underneath all that debris.

The end of this task, it turns out, lies not ahead of me, but to the rear.

So that’s when the rake and wheelbarrow come into play. Gathering load after load into the wheelbarrow, finding spots in the woods where plant debris might be artfully concealed: this is not as much fun as forging ahead. Still, cleaning up is part of the whole job. Otherwise I’m not really clearing a path. I’m just making a mess.

For most of a week, I find an hour here, two hours there to work on the path. Moving through filtered light and shade, I pace my pleasure, stopping periodically to clean up behind, always ending a work session with cleanup, so the next session can start with forging ahead.


Then, late Friday afternoon, I turn a corner and can actually see the driveway up there through the trees. Discipline falls apart. I cannot stop myself from forging ahead, ahead, ahead, clopping all the way through until I reach the end (now the beginning) and step out onto gravel in the slanting light — oh, so happy, but way too exhausted to clean up before nightfall.

First thing Saturday, I’m out there. The cleanup from yesterday’s last long push takes the whole morning. And yes, it is good when at last — tired, thirsty, and ready for lunch — I can turn around, start at the beginning, and walk a clear path all the way home.

With blessings on every path,


The new path from the new driveway
Into the woods
A turn ahead
The path that leads home
Glove and cloppers
That’s duct tape wrapped around the thumb of my right glove.

4 thoughts on “Clearing a Path

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  1. Wow, Margaret, what a clear parable – if I don’t clean up after myself as I go, I may lose the clear path home! But then too, as my path gets longer and takes more unexpected turns, “home” moves up along it. So the path back to my first home is not clear any more, not because of slash and trash from my passage so long ago, but because it’s overgrown again from lack of passage. And that’s okay. And so is all the duct tape here and there mending my slightly worn soul.


    1. Thanks, Brad. The whole idea of “home” resonates with me these days. Where is it, at any given moment? Sometimes the way home is back along a familiar path, sometimes forward to a place I’ve never been — to a new home. Which makes me think of the labyrinth path…


  2. Here on “our” Greek island, our second home, so much has changed. The severe economic crisis has worried everyone and has affected some. We were busy with friends and Sandy’s painting and paying taxes and and and… Everything was somehow strange. Suddenly we both got bad colds. The weather’s been great, and we’ve stayed close to home recovering and not doing much of anything bu reading and resting. All unexpectedly, I’m back in touch with the essence of this place again. Tourists have left and friends have time to talk – to really share their feelings. And it is home again. Beyond this, I look forward to being back in PT in a few weeks, because that is home too. I guess I don’t know how to define home or how to guarantee my access to it, but I know when I’m there. What a blessing!


    1. I look forward to your return to this home on the other side of the world. Yes, I’ve been thinking of you and Sandy with the economic news from Greece. Must be unsettling for everyone. Hard to see the path through these times. Many bad decisions brought us to this point … which doesn’t mean we know all the right decisions now. Friends sharing feelings sounds good.

      Sorry to hear about your colds. Rest, take care of each other, and come back to your other home soon.


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