Pathways of Desire

Gina Parosa - La Center, Washington
As heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition, January 4, 2009
Gina Parosa

Gina Parosa believes in letting her kids, pets, and livestock make their own paths in life. But she also realizes that as a farmer and parent, she sometimes has to step in and set good boundaries—while still being flexible enough to change them.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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The architectural term “pathways of desire” refers to dirt ruts in the grass that people make when they want a shortcut between prescribed routes. If you have a yard, you probably have at least a few of them. I live on a farm and we have dozens: The path between the doghouse and the porch; the tight corner around the house on the south side; horse trails; the line between one gate and the next.

I’m a firm believer in protecting pathways of desire, but I believe we have to be careful of them, too.

On one hand, I hate rules. I’m pretty creative about finding ways around them, and I always think twice about thwarting those of others. I respect desire in my children, and in the animals on my farm—their pathways look to me like individual choices and I respect those. But my respect is double-edged because pathways of desire can also lead us into trouble.

Lately a pathway of desire has led our horses across what are supposed to be impassable barriers: the cattle guards. They want to come into our yard to eat green grass and apples off the trees before the family can. I understand this desire, even though I feed them bales of hay every day and it ought to be enough.

Saturday night, our oldest horse fell while leaping across the cattle guard, and broke his hip. We had to put him down and have his carcass hauled away. The other horses watched the drama unfold. Did they learn anything? No. Today they are back in the yard.

Thwarting pathways of desire is a constant concern of planners and architects, and farmers, too. I’m going to have to pull out and enlarge our cattle guards, excavate deeply under them, paint them bright yellow and pull a strand of electric fence across them until the horses understand that their pathway of desire isn’t available to them anymore.

This is hard for me. It goes against my nature, but sometimes I need to modify my belief based on what I’ve learned. I realize that as a mother, a farmer, and wife, I sometimes must go along with rules.

For instance, my husband and I disagree on a lot: religion, politics, we don’t like the same music. While our pathways of desire might breach our relationship, we put up a cattle guard and we stay obediently on our own sides. It mostly works.

Boundaries are necessary sometimes. Enforcing them takes a lot more effort than it ought to. I believe you have to choose your pathway of desire with care. Get it wrong and the consequences might be fatal. My old horse and I learned this the hard way.

Gina Parosa lives with her family on a commercial hay farm in La Center, Wash. She hand spins her own yarn and knits socks, scarves, and sweaters for family and friends. In addition to horses, Parosa has chickens, cats, dogs, and a donkey on her farm.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.