Treading Desire Paths: Field Note #1


Smell of hot diesel on a melting pavement.

I’m walking in Halifax, but I’m thinking about Mexico: smell of hot diesel on a melting pavement.

How is it that our impressions linger and layer, from one place to another? How is it that time mixes and melds in our memories?

I have a friend who calls these paths that aren’t paved, these shortcuts that everyone wears through the grass, “desire paths.”

Are memories desire paths also?

What triggers these memories, these desire paths? Why do we run so quickly down them? Almost against our will, they incline us towards themselves. Better than the paved over routes, they take us by surprise. This place, this heat, this scent can lead me to that one?

coronados south trail P1140866

I’m staying in a new place in the city this year, so my walk to school is different. I’ve made this particular walk six or seven times now. As I walk, I look at the flowers that are planted around the nearby hospital and care home; I wonder, as I register each colour and scent, what else I will find to pay attention to. And then, one morning, it is warm. Suddenly, as I’m crossing a busy intersection, I catch a whiff of tar and diesel and I think, smell of hot diesel on a melting pavement, I could be in Mexico. I am suffused with joy.



This entry is the first of several “walking & annotating” exercises that I have assigned to my “Art Action and Environment” class. I decided that I should try it too.

Walking & annotating—Instructions: Select a place a short distance away (10-20 minutes) to which you do or can walk often. Walk there at least five times this week. On the first walk, notice what you notice as you walk (Sound? Colour? Weeds in cracks in the pavement? Trash? Smells? People’s conversations? Birds? Other animals? Insects? Rocks? Water? Etc.). Record your impressions. Each time your repeat your walk, pay attention to some new aspect or detail. Produce a field note that matches some of your observations to a reflection on walking, our readings or something you’ve learned.

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My friend who calls the interstitial, worn-through shortcuts city dwellers create between sidewalks and other paved routes, “desire paths,” is Angela Henderson. See more on her work here: and here: Treading Desire Paths: Field Note #1

Photos are of the desire path I walked in Halifax on my way to class, paths on Isla Coronados and in San Basilio, Baja California Sud, Mexico, and of a slide from the first day of class.

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