A Worn Path
BY Eudora Welty (1941)
It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the
country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming
along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She
was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows,
moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and
lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane
made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front
of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed
meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.
She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally
long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but
every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which
dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead.
Her eyes were
blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching
wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead,
but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were
illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came
down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like
Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, "Out of
my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!. . .
Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites.
... Keep the big wild hogs out
of my path. Don't let none of those come running my direction. I got a long
way." Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip,
would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.
On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles
almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as
light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove—it was not too
late for him.