Looking back, it seemed so obvious. The Strawberry Road, once mysterious, puzzling, stressful, joyful and confusing, was now so clear. But such was the nature of the road — it provided the opportunities and the obstacles. The knowledge and the decisions were all mine.
It was a Sunday morning, the moment of my birth, that I stepped onto the Strawberry Road …
Chapter 1: The Surfacing
From the very onset, the Strawberry Road appeared vast and never ending, suggesting an adventure that would last forever if I so chose. I had anticipated the undertaking for some time but hadn’t felt the need to plan the course or the destination, as those would be decisions that I would make along the way. The thought of discovery was exhilarating, but frightening — yet full of hope and opportunity.
With no obstacles in view, I could head in any direction, as the Strawberry Road was really not a road at all. It was more like an infinite open field dotted with strawberry bushes, some ripe with the fruit that would certainly sustain me throughout the journey.
I scanned the faint horizon as it softly blended the ground with the sky, leaving no actual point of demarcation. A pale hint of distant mountains rimmed the edges of my periphery as their purple form silhouetted in and out of the horizon’s haze. The field, a tapestry of intense to muted colors ranging from those of the pure earth to a striped spectrum of pinkish reds which blended into oranges and, without so much as a delimiter, blues and greens. The many colors stood as one contiguous hue, a color onto itself. Dotted throughout the landscape stood several small trees and what I could envision were shrubs and rocks and other matter indigenous to the open plain. The land did not appear barren by any account nor was it flush with vegetation or foliage. It was fertile but not overripe or saturated.
Muffled sounds emanated from far in the distance; I could not tell if they were intended for me or just the atmosphere, as it existed on the Strawberry Road. Yet, they were warm, if sounds could be so, and comforting.
The journey appeared attainable with no barriers that could not be overcome or circumvented. It was the right amount of challenge. As this would be my maiden voyage, I wanted to be tested but not so much as to taste defeat and sour me for future ventures.
My steps were tentative upon the soft, yet unyielding, ground until I gained confidence in my footing. I started straight ahead as I had no direction, no goal other than to explore; whatever route I selected would be the correct one. A rare feeling, I thought, to have the freedom to not be wrong no matter what the answer — a freedom that encouraged me to pursue further and wider. I was, for that instant, liberated from the threat of failure.
I moved forward with great anticipation focusing on each step, which was new and exciting and memorable, and not the expanse of the overall journey. That, itself, was outside of my comprehension.
It seemed like I had made no progress until I glanced behind and saw that the rambling trail had followed me whichever way I turned. Collectively, my insignificant steps had transformed into something larger, although of questionable value. I was further from my inception than I had expected and there were few landmarks to mark time or distance.
The short history of my journey quilted the field behind as it displayed small trails of my own creation, some crossing others, some confused, some weaving parallel paths only to break off at unpredictable junctures on the impulse of the moment. My route was clearly not efficient to reach any destination other than the purpose of wandering. Content with accomplishing just that, I continued with my current design. Again peering back at my course I was comforted, as it would provide me with the way home, albeit circuitous, should one be necessary.
Chapter 2: Of Choices Large and Small
The breeze ran through me as if to advise that I was not the only goings-on. I brought my collar to shield my bare neck as the wind rose up from the where the sun first had made its entrance. The wind wove an invisible pattern as it stroked the field into a mesmerizing rhythm, not unlike the gentle waves of an evening lute. Nature’s elements played together in random harmony that filled the senses of the serenity of the Strawberry Road.
For a short while I enjoyed the freedom of meandering. I then felt the need for the comfort of traveled trails. I sought trails with a beginning and an end and a destination that others before thought purposeful and worthy. I would travel these for a while to accumulate distance and avoid needless pitfalls. The paths of those who had come and gone before would serve me well. Certainly they would save time even though time, my only possession, was plentiful.
Nevertheless, I could not resist the expedience of a proven route to leapfrog to my next waypoint. And, at such time that the course became boring or otherwise not to my liking, I would simply disembark the traveled road and head back again into the open field or, if I thought best, select another traveled road that was more compatible with my journey. I simply leveraged the legacy of others, which could propel me to a point with greater dispatch than I would have on my own. I did not consider this parasitical but intelligent and resourceful, not at all in violation of my self-agreement of exploration. After all, knowledge builds on prior knowledge, else we would all start at the same point and never exceed what the most advanced navigator knew. Knowledge would stop at that exact moment and, perhaps, so would mankind. Following existing trails was a prudent and responsible course for selected legs of my journey. I had to take care, though, not to become lazy and remain on the traveled roads forever.
I did not have to go far to find these paths but I found it curious that when I was not seeking them, they were less visible — I wondered why I had not noticed them before.
I merged with some and passed on others, tiny decisions that I did not consider decisions at the time, yet perhaps the most significant assessments of my journey. As I had no prior experience and little information to go on, I let my instinct guide me as to which path to select and which to bypass. Each was a commitment to a direction, although not irreversible, but certainly simpler to sustain than change. As I entered a new trail, I just flowed with the bearing and followed the step right before me, not looking too deep into the distance or too far over my shoulder.
The traveled roads offered the safety of the many who had ventured before me and set a course of optimum direction over the terrain. I wondered if they had considered adventurers like me as they created the roads. Or, perhaps, the roads were created by happenstance; the product of many neophytes, much like myself, who ambled down the same path quite randomly. All the same, their journeys enabled me to avoid mishaps and missteps, a problem I had had on the uncertainty of the open field, as I would step into a rabbit hole or stumble over some unseen rock or awaken some creature that lay asleep in my path. I found myself less wary on the traveled roads as they held less danger and surprise. Or was it that they held fewer unknowns, an unclear advantage.
For the moment, I had chosen progress over exploration, distance over adventure and time over leisure. I considered these transient decisions as I could always go back to the undefined plains, should I so chose. However, a certain sense of adventure had been lost and certainly missed.
These paths presented new challenges, some with consequences that would not be felt for some time. At times I found myself sometimes agonizing at a fork, a decision that appeared so monumental that the impact of the wrong path would certainly have severe costs. What if those who had no sense of direction or purpose had paved this trail? What if there was danger at the very end? Worse, what if there was no end and the road continued into perpetuity and this would be the last decision I would ever make?
Often, those were the choices that were of no consequence and would have no bearing on my next waypoint or the succeeding destination. Often they would only yield a slightly different course that would exist only for the duration of that leg of my journey, an inconsequential leg at that. I began to understand that sometimes the most important and difficult decisions were important and difficult only at their making, having absolutely no bearing on the future of my journey. In fact, the process of making the decision, considering and weighing all the elements, pros and cons, all the possibilities and probabilities, was likely the only value of the decision, as the actual result of that process was often moot.
Perhaps the most meaningful decisions may have been the smallest and most casual ones which I wasn’t even aware that I had made: the tiny hidden choices that may have had significant influence over where I would wind up and how I would get there. This was particularly true of the earliest selections in the journey as they have had the greatest bearing on the route and ultimate destination; a half step to the right now could result in my being light years from where I otherwise would have been.
Within any passage there were many small choices such as a small detour, or an inconsequential sidestep, or where to cross the road, or when to turn, or how fast to travel, or a glance to the left or right, or the infinite little course corrections one involuntarily makes. These were often ignored as being almost intuitive or self-evident — choices, so obvious that they did not seem like options at all. Yet, although these occurred just beneath the surface without any mindful debate or vacillation, they may have involved the finest calculations of my intellect — a reckoning so delicate and so complex, taking into account the sum total of my experience and all the possibilities and permutations of potential occurrences, that they could only be executed by my subconscious. Within that private realm, the environment provided sufficient purity of thought and freedom from outside influences and irrelevant information to facilitate flawless decisions, right or wrong.
I wondered if I had changed any of these, might I have ultimately encountered some obstacle or perhaps missed, by an instant, an opportunity that I otherwise might have had. If I stepped once to the right or left, or stopped for a moment to get my bearings or catch my breath or just take in the view, had I altered my course? Or was this detour and inadvertent deviation from the plan actually the plan itself?
I agonized over decisions, which would have no consequence no matter which direction I took. Yet I paid no mind to other benign choices that came without consideration.
It was those that have had the most significant impact.