I used to get lost inside a laminated image sticky-tacked to my 7th grade English teacher’s podium. It was one of those inspirational posters every teacher had up in their classroom with insights like “What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right.” I don’t recall learning much else from the year I spent in Mrs. Green’s class but I remember this poster. It was a photograph of two leaf-covered trails, shaded by towering trees with lush green leaves. Between the branches, celestial streams of light flooded onto the forest floor, an other-worldly vision to my tree-starved Texas eyes.
The bottom read:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I pondered that quiet-looking, peaceful place in the woods, the meaning of those words every day of my entire 7th grade year. Yet I had pretty much forgotten about them until this week. While on a run in Western Massachusetts where I’m visiting some friends I passed Mill River (near the town of Amherst) and saw a sign for the Robert Frost Trail.
Whoosh, just like that deja vu smacks me the way only it knows how. It’s 1992 and I’m back in 7th grade again. Except I’m not back in 7th grade, I’m here. I’m here! On THE Robert Frost Trail! It’s all here in fact: the green leaves, the towering trees, the gentle brook nearby. Even the celestial light. I’m inside the poster. Paths heretofore diverged, converge.
What does a woman do when she comes upon the option to head down a path called The Robert Frost Trail? She takes it.
The Robert Frost Trail does not disappoint. My very own personal Narnia leads me to a musical brook where water collaborates with rock to make the rhythmic beat of bass. It leads me to think about the ripples of water, how the stones underneath determine where the water bends and breaks, tucks and flows. It leads me to think about how even what’s seemingly arbitrary isn’t and that’s exactly how it should be.
The idea that we have our own ideas about how things “should be” reminds me about the little discussions I’ve been having with myself lately about attachment. I go back and forth about attachment with mixed feelings and believe me, the irony of that isn’t lost on me. (How absurd, being attached to attachment!) Aren’t we supposed to free ourselves from the “should bes” and the “what ifs” and the “could have beens?”
I stop running mid-step when I come upon a tree’s roots are exposed like fingers reaching. My thoughts take on the staccato rhythm of my breathing. Tell a tree not to attach itself to the earth! Tell leaves not to be attached to their branches! Tell moss not to grow on a stone! Does everything we know not attach itself to something? Everything on earth is attached to earth by gravity. Even the earth itself is attached in orbit around the sun.
Later on I do a little research about the Robert Frost Trail. I want to know how it got its name. But Google works its magic and before I know it I’m in a slew of information I hadn’t gone out specifically looking for. Instead of learning about this forty-seven mile trail, I’m again pondering that dang poem. Everyone knows the meaning is supposed to be ironic. The trail less traveled is the only one there is and that is the point. But that answer has never satisfied me fully. I’ve always felt Frost is pointing us toward something else.
The more I think about attachment and all the things that are attached to something else, the more I think about cycles. I think about seasons. About birth, life, death, evolution. About how we are attached to things out of necessity. Out of love. We attach ourselves to the tangible and to the intangible, to outcomes and possibility. We hook ourselves on hope.
As I’m thinking of all the things that attach themselves to other things, all the things we are attached to, right down to our mother’s body at birth, my argument begins to fall to pieces. Because everything that begins as attached, eventually must be made free. Umbilical cords get cut, mothers wean their children. Leaves fall from branches. It’s only in letting go that evolution and growth (spring!) is actually possible.
This is what Frost is talking about. The road not taken isn’t about missed chances or lives we didn’t lead. It’s not even really about the path. It’s about the recognition of said path. To be able to unify ourselves with ourselves, with our actual real life, to make peace with the notion that there is only one path; to stop attaching ourselves to that other, imaginary path is when we are free. He’s talking self-liberation. When you can make peace with the shoulds the way a stream doesn’t argue where a stone happens to fall, when you can sit back, look at your life for what it is, without judgement, without longing or regrets and recognize that all is exactly how it should be, that is your path. And maybe that is the difference.
The Road Not Taken
Photo of Robert Frost Trail by Veronica DiLullo