My daily walk nearly always takes me on the same route — across the bridge and up the old carriage trail to Sunrise Museum in Charleston, West Virginia. Governor William MacCorkle built this road a century ago, and it has long since acquired the grace and mystery of an abandoned garden. Stone walls and stairways are cracked and leaning, furred with moss or overgrown with ivy.
What I have come to feel for this path is a kind of love I once understood only in relation to people. The trail has become my friend, whose moods and apparel change with the seasons, who is always recognizable but never the same. I have seen this path in the shimmering pale light of early spring; blanketed in knee-high snow; whirling and swirling beech leaves under its bowers in autumn. I have memorized the places where my favorite flowers bloom, and anticipate them before they arrive — from the shy, nodding snowbells to the lacy foliage of the fringed bleeding heart, from the arched symmetry of Solomon’s seal to the veined sconce of jack-in-the-pulpit. Every fall I find dozens of sweet pawpaws along this trail.
As with any friend worth having, there’s always something new — some secret not yet shared, some beauty that appears of a sudden and leaves me wondering why I never noticed it before. Last week I walked the path just after rain. The light was like liquid poured through the blue and green, the colors bleeding like dye into the very air. In the stillness and glimmer of a shadowy glen, a wild magnolia bloomed — large, cream-colored petals — but it was so subtle, so almost-hidden, I felt embarrassed to see it, like a peeping Tom outside the window of beautiful woman.
Then the magnolia spoke to me, in a musical voice more felt than heard, and said, friend, this is for you.