Plains’ “I Walked With You a Ways”

In my late 20s, I used to espouse a theory that went something like this: Relationships are an experience, and people should have a lot of them. Rather than try to pin any one thing down forever, maybe the best relationships survive just two or three years. At the time, sustaining anything real and lasting between two constantly evolving people felt fraught, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t beauty to be found in moments fleeting and fast.

What I meant, in essence, was that while it was lovely to think about building a life with one person, wouldn’t it be more fitting to let relationships ebb and flow like luscious waves, accepting what they offer, enjoying the experience, and then letting them go when they’ve run their course?

Looking back, I clearly had my doubts about commitment, though I’ve softened since then. I’m still dubious about marriage, but I’ve warmed significantly to the blossoming possibility of an enduring thing. Nevertheless, the Buddhist side of me (or rather the side of me interested in Buddhism) sees the value of not clinging to anything too tightly.

That very notion, or some amalgamation of it, surfaced in “I Walked With You a Ways” from Plains, the new country project from Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield) and Jess Williamson. I’ve written previously about the significance of Waxahatchee’s stunning album Saint Cloud, which soundtracked the early days of the pandemic and imprinted on me in ways I still find tender.

After albums of hard-edged indie rock, the Alabama-born Crutchfield eased on Saint Cloud and the experience clearly signified one she’s not ready to let go of just yet. Partnering with Texas-born singer-songwriter Williamson, the two explore the musical heritages of their southern upbringings.

“I Walked With You a Ways” is a strolling waltz. Rather than partner with another and dance their way across the floor, Williamson sets off by herself. She rambles along reflecting. “I ain’t your girl no more/ Busted out the gates of your world,” she sings plaintively before Crutchfield joins her on the last line of the first verse. “No one watches over me,” they sing together, while a spare piano and brushed drums provide a scant framework.

The song has every inclination that it’ll be a mournful one, but it changes trajectories by the second verse, growing more prosaic about the ephemerality of any time spent with another. “On the winding path of life/ Sometimes you walk alone/ ‘Cuz people come and go,” Williamson sings, drawing out the vowels and allowing a bit of emotion to seep through there.

The next few lines come faster, before slowing down to pace out the lyrical coda. “There is a season for each one, they change your heart/ And then it’s done/ Well, I’ll be better all my days/ ‘Cuz I walked with you a ways,” they sing, their voices intertwining into a groundswell of gratitude.

Each relationship leaves its mark, and it can take a while to see the balance. Approaching any relationship as a gift revolutionizes the ending—the hollow sense of loss fades and you’re left with a transformation that tips its hat to the past and makes way for a new beginning. I adore the song’s sentiment all the more for the way it aligns with what spiritual teacher Ram Dass once said: “We are all just walking each other home.” It’s true. Some of us walk a while, and some of us walk a ways.