A Path Fit for a Cow

Edward Mitchell Bannister, Driving Home the Cows

We recently taught our son to ride a bike. The first day was rough. He would weave this way and that, quickly taking a sharp turn into the sidewalk. Memories from my own first bike-rides came flooding back. I remember being as unbalanced as my son. My dad yelled the solution, “Stop looking at your feet!  Look at where you want to go!” As soon as I, and my son, stopped looking down – fearing a fall, we balanced ourselves and magically began riding in a straight line.

Too often we walk our ‘path of life’ looking at our feet. This creates a chaotic and haphazard pattern – a path  not constructed with forward-looking goals in mind or informed by logic, morality, or truth, but laid down in the same way my son’s was.  These paths can be created by attempts to avoid imminent pain, or by following the winding of our own fleeting pleasure-seeking. This insightful poem represents this idea well.

The Calf-Path

By Sam Foss

I.

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 all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.

II.

But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;

And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,

And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.


III.

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;

But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,

And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.


IV.

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.


V.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;

And this, 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.


VI.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the 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 followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.
 

VII.

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 in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred 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.


The calf will wander this way for shade, or that way to nibble on yummy grass, or may take a turn to avoid low-lying branches. The calf lays out a path without foresight or ultimate purpose. Generations after him many unquestionably follow his careless trail.

However, we must look towards our desired destination and turn away our attention from distracting temptations or obstacles. We, as parents, do not have to walk on careless tracks. We can lay down better ones.

When we become parents,  we envision the relationship we want to have with our children – now and in years to come.  We want mutual respect. We want to trust each other. We want to pass on our values and morality. We want our son or daughter to be capable of greatness, to be a positive influence on the world and their future family. So we intentionally walk a path toward this ideal, and encourage our children to join us. They may choose to wander from time to time, but a road laid in love can entice them back – especially after experiencing paths of chaos. If other parents abdicate their responsibility and leave their children to roam on trails laid by a degenerate culture or by ill-informed philosophy – that is their choice. Our choice is to intentionally raise our children, laying out a road with a destination fit for a King or Queen, not a cow.

Ally

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