The road not taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

Can one ever truly understand an artist’s intent? Each individual views the world through his/her own unique lens, and as an interpreter, I find it both an opportunity and gift for the beholder to seek his/her meaning. I have known this poem for many years, and I hold it in the highest regard. In fact, a dear friend recited it by a large, elfin rock, beneath cascading rain at my husband and my autumnal equinox wedding at our upper Skagit home.

What interests me about this poem at this moment is Frost’s focus on the road – a human construct and temporarily permanent imprint on the land. Frost writes of the choice to follow divergent life paths. For a long time, I imagined that my own life path had been defined by the many choices I made that brought me down the road less traveled. I still believe this has been the case in many instances.

My own manifest destiny brought me from a well-settled, quaint New England across the country and to the edge of the wilderness of the North Cascades. A quote from Thoreau’s essay Walking seems fitting for this interim stage of my life – a period between civilization and wildness, that is.

“Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

Yet, now I find myself thinking about this poem and my present place in this world from a different perspective. For one, no roads lead to Gustavus, at least no human roads. There do exist waterways, but for the moment let us think of the concept of a road in the traditional sense – as pavement or gravel. In choosing to bring my life to Southeast Alaska, I made a conscious choice to leave human roads altogether, to veer off this human thoroughfare and into unknown territory, into the bush, to a world of devil’s club and nagoonberry, brown bear and wolf, parasitic jaeger and hermit thrush, porcupine and moose, sea otter and humpback whale, mountain and glacier, wildness and Wilderness.

Had I any aptitude for poetry, I would add a third option to this poem for those whose curiosity and sense of self lead them off the path altogether, returning to a world that has been lost, transforming what our society has deemed “wilderness” into home.

This quote from John Muir seems a fitting end.

Or perhaps, a beginning:

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

~ John Muir

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