In “A Worn Path,” the protagonist, Phoenix Jackson, takes an arduous journey on foot through the countryside to reach the city of Natchez, Mississippi. She embarks on this difficult, sometimes harrowing trip from Old Natchez Trace—her home deep in the woods—in order to fetch her grandson’s medication.
On this cold December morning, the elderly Phoenix encounters many obstacles; nonetheless, she is determined to obtain medicine that helps soothe her grandson’s burned throat. She and the grandson have only each other in the world. As his loving caregiver, she knows that she must get this specific medication when his throat closes, making breathing and swallowing difficult for him. After shooing away any wild animals hiding in the bushes and climbing over a hill, she becomes entangled in a thorny bush. Instead of panicking, Phoenix exudes patience, humor, perseverance. She tries to free herself:
Her fingers were busy and intent, but her skirts were full and long, so that before she could pull them free in one place they were caught in another. It was not possible to allow the dress to tear.
Instead of becoming frustrated and ripping her skirt in despair, Phoenix diligently works to untangle herself, little by little. She has the presence of mind to stay calm and not take the easy way of escape (e.g., simply pulling away and tearing her dress and apron in the process). Phoenix even shows a bit of sad whimsy when she tells the bush,
Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass—no, sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.
She begrudgingly gives the thorn bush some credit for succeeding in its “appointed work.” By facetiously commending it for stopping people with “no, sir,” Phoenix reveals a little respect for the ornery, personified obstacle. She jokes that its looks are deceiving and that it appears pretty, young, and harmless.
Disentangling herself is difficult, but she is successful.
Finally, trembling all over, she stood free, and after a moment dared to stoop for her cane.
Instead of gloating or giving up, Phoenix simply resumes her mission. The elderly grandmother tenaciously continues on her journey and overcomes more challenges.