Hidden paths don't reveal themselves often. They're best when you stumble upon one far from home, away from the familiar. Taking a walk you might catch sight of of a shadowy opening, calling you to duck through a canopy of interlocked branches, or through an up-island gorse-covered dune Do you accept the invitation, follow the path? I've done that many times. They've led to buried treasure. Not pirate's gold, but beautiful sights I wouldn't otherwise have seen.
On Swan's Island, Maine, through the thickest pine forest, the almost invisible narrow path paved with soft, golden needles, leading to a private crescent beach.
In Normandy, uphill through an apple orchard, to the crest with a view of wildflower fields, once painted by Boudin and Monet, sloping down to the English Channel. Other byways through gardens, Impressionist landscapes filled with light and flowers.
In Ireland, in Youghal, following a path within sight of the River Blackwater, coming upon a medieval church dating back to St. Declan and the year 450.
Another day in East Cork, the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, a steep climb from the road, leads along the coast, high above the sea, with views of small islands grazed by sheep and goats, sea birds including terns and fulmars riding the air currents, white gannets plunging down into the rough blue sea, and the Old Head of Kinsale shimmering in the distance. That walk, and a day spent in Kinsale, provided much inspiration for The Silver Boat.
Our own Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, a mystical experience every time I take it, whether on a brilliant September day, or a snowy December dusk, or the hottest August morning. Cliff Walk has figured in at least three novels of mine (Angels All Over Town, What Matters Most, The Geometry of Sisters) and probably more... It hugs the coast for ten miles, past mansions of the gilded age on one side, the wild Atlantic on the other, through tunnels, past Marble House's Chinese Tea House.
Perhaps most dear to me, and not at all far from home: the secret path in all my Hubbard's Point novels, leading to a hidden beach where people fall in love and pick beach plums to make tea and jelly and see shooting stars and take midnight swims under the full moon's silver light.
(Painting by Claude Monet, Garden Path at Giverny.)