I know I walked this way before
I seen my footprints going out as I came back
Thought to call out
But I could tell;
Hands in pockets,
Leaning forward,
Even if I was listening
The wind would have snatched those words away.

***

In the fall, long lines of ants combed the bone dry land for seeds. Shiny lines of them swapping chemical news as they hurried across the rough fields. One behind the others, never slowing. The restless press of them passing, the unbroken hurry as their rank and file pressed on, wearing grooves in the land. Clear and deep close to their homes, fainter and lighter as they fanned out. Each tiny foot biting into the land, exacting a toll. When the rains come they’ll fade and the heaps of chaff by their burrows will be scattered by the wind.

Further down the hill, rabbit tracks score the hillsides. Their marks are more stubborn and enduring. Trails become channels, tracks become cuts. Above, the eagles follow their schedules. Tufts of fur mark their final appointments.

***

A year ago, a storm uncovered a section of mudflat along the Norfolk coast, north of London. Five sets of footprints, clear enough to see toes and heels, were exposed. A group, some larger, some smaller, wandered out from the dawn of time. Perhaps a family, but from 800,000 years it is just as easy to read too much as read too little. Perhaps a family, perhaps a pack, but a moment in time surely. A scientist interviewed said there is something about footprints that makes your heart beat a little faster, something about footprints that isn’t there in bones or stone tools.

***

How do you measure a footprint?
Is it the press of it?
The area?
The length of stride?
The shape of it?
The circumstance?
High heeled
Booted
Barefoot
Can you read the skip of the heart?
The furrowed brow?
The homeward tilt?

***

The formula developed by UNESCO divides the arable land by the number of inhabitants and comes up with one human footprint, the parameter: Our individual perimeter. Other groups measure lifestyle, consumption, and expectation and derive, in a sense, our stride. The giants of fairy tales wore seven-league boots, some of us have a seven-earth stride.

Two metrics both alike in certainty. Bear witness to ancient grudge and bitter jealousies. Followed, it seems they can only lead to strife and fearful passage. Perhaps, through misadventure there is a way, though no footprints as yet track back.

***

Standing above the cross roads, I think of footprints:

If I carry you does that make one or two?
What is the carrying capacity?
What can we bear?
Bear to do with out,
Bear to maintain,
The bare minimum, the bare necessities,
Your average Park street cliff dweller
Neo-digic man, peering from out his cave
Scans the horizon and wonders if now is the time,
The time to cut and run,
Who will find his footprints?
Imprints in the mudflats along the shores of the shallow carbon sea
Can you see him?
The small band, perhaps a family,
And the trail of footprints criss-crossing behind them

***

There is something about footprints that makes your heart beat a little faster.

Writer, walker, poet, educator. Commercial fisherman, builder, donut maker, organic grower. Boston, U. City, Maine, South Africa, Madrid.

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