Caminante

by Antonio Machado, my translation

Walker, only your footprints
are the path, and nothing else;
Walker, there is no path,
you make a path by walking.
Your walking becomes the path,
and when you look back
you see a trail you can never
set foot on again.
Walker, there is no path,
only wakes upon the sea.


Eight years ago I packed everything I owned into two black, REI duffel bags and moved to Seattle.

I was coming out of a hard personal winter, but finally the season was shifting. I just needed to get my feet under me and then the juices of spring would naturally start flowing again.

I got a pay-the-bills job, found a place to live, and bought an Ikea mattress off Craigslist.

A few months passed. Then a year. Then two years.

But spring didn’t come.

Back in my late teens and through most of my 20s I had moments of electric creativity and aliveness. It was like I’d find a place where my plug fit the socket of the world and, whoosh, the whole current of life seemed to flow through me.

That’s what I expected spring to feel like. Not 100% of the time. But I expected—I longed for—those moments to return.

Instead I got a steady trudge of routinized, monotonous days.

A sucking fear started growing in my chest that the life-filled part of me was just… gone.

It was about this time that I signed up for an 11-day, guided “soul quest” in the mountains of southern Utah. On the last full day of the quest I was sitting with my journal in a gap in the brush, looking out over the desert below, when this line appeared to me:

“Belong into the world.”

In the years since, those four simple words have been a North Star for me.

They helped me find a new energy and creativity that can feel just as electric, but are different in one key way:

The energy of my early adulthood was usually in response to something. Something that was already alive. A project. An idea. It could even be my own idea as long as it got validated by the world somehow.

The spark of aliveness was always outside me.

But belonging into the world starts with connecting with what’s alive inside you. Then nurturing that connection until you’re ready to put your own tender aliveness into conversation with what’s happening in the world.

That, I think, is why I couldn’t find spring. I kept looking outside myself, where I’d always found it before.

But this new spring could only grow from within.

When I heard Antonio Machado’s Caminante a few years ago, I felt a big sigh of recognition. It speaks directly to what it’s felt like navigating this new season. Because the more you start following your own internal directional arrow, the less you can rely on established paths in the world.

I wanted to spend more time with the poem but the English translations I saw felt clunky and rote.

So I decided to make my own.

With my rusted-beyond-repair high school Spanish and a lot of Googling, I pieced together a new version that feels like it captures more of the soul of the poem, at least to me.

I hope it can offer you a little nourishment on your pathless path, just as it did for me.