This great sign reminded us of the Gary Snyder Poem, Off the Trail, which we think is an essential place to be at times: All paths are possible, many will work, Being blocked is its own kind of pleasure, Getting through is a joy…

It is the opposite of the 45-page manual of driving instructions to follow the EXACT 17,527-mile road trip that Jack Kerouac documented in On the Road, his great, transformative, UNPLANNED odyssey. Open Culture calls these Google-based e-directions “a map for our times”. We think, sadly, it is the worst of our time: completely planned, following someone else’s path, unwilling to just follow the road wherever it will lead.

On the Road directions screnshot

We prefer to go…

Off the Trail

for Carole

We are free to find our own way
Over rocks – through the trees –
Where there are no trails. The ridge and the forest
Present themselves to our eyes and feet
Which decide for themselves
In their old learned wisdom of doing
Where the wild will take us. We have
Been here before. It’s more intimate somehow
Than walking the paths that lay out some route
That you stick to,
All paths are possible, many will work,
Being blocked is its own kind of pleasure,
Getting through is a joy, the side-trips
And detours show down logs and flowers,
The deer paths straight up, the squirrel tracks
Across, the outcroppings lead us on over.
Resting on treetrunks,
Stepping out on the bedrock, angling and eyeing
Both making choices – now parting our ways –
And later rejoin; I’m right, you’re right,
We come out together. Mattake, “Pine Mushroom,”
Heaves at the base of a stump. The dense matted floor
Of Red Fir needles and twigs. This is wild!
We laugh, wild for sure,
Because no place is more than another,
All places total,
And our ankles, knees, shoulders &
Haunches know right where they are.
Recall how the Dao De
Jing puts it: the trail’s not the way.
No path will get you there, we’re off the trail,
You and I, and we chose it! Our trips out of doors
Through the years have been practice
For this ramble together,
Deep in the mountains
Side by side,
Over the rocks, through the trees.

~Gary Snyder

We found the poem in our much post-it’d copy of The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, one of those books we can open randomly, ANYWHERE, and find a treasure.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Sign photo via Annaleenas Hem, taken at String’s booth at the Stockholm furniture fair

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One thought on “You Are Not Lost + Beat Wisdom + an un-Kerouac Road Map

  1. That map. really IS kind of depressing. But I thank you for such a beautiful poem and your inspiration
    to follow the ‘untrod path.

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