Once asked where I like to hike, I answered, "Where ever it appears that man has not gone." It seemed like a simple answer then. Yet, now as I bury myself in my writing on a daily basis, I find myself analyzing words and phrases in a much different way. I realize now, that in the many years I claimed I had no love for poetry, and was not the "type to sit and write a poem," that my "hiking answer" is not that far off from Robert Frost's view in, The Road Not Taken.
Maybe it has nothing to do with poetry or words. I've never written a poem in my life (though I have studied them in my college courses, in classes like "the fundamentals of literature") nor do I have the desire to. Yet, I find in my actions, that many times I have lived them. Perhaps I'm just a romantic at heart. I don't know.
Years ago, I was walking through the Green Mountains of Vermont between route 73 in Brandon and Route 125 in Middlebury. Most hikers use trails, and I may to a point, but more often than not I head into what I call the untouched lands. In my hiking, in this particular week, I came upon a beaver dam. The place was only several hundred feet below the Long Trail that stretched over a place called Romance Mountain (yeah I know, weird right? Read on. It gets better) at an elevation of somewhere near three thousand feet. A stream called Sucker Brook passed by and I believe branches of that brook were what fed the beaver dam's water supply in the early spring when the snows left the peaks. I sat there on the side of the small body of water that contained dead or dying trees, and I just watched and listened. Chipmunks chirped, and red squirrels chattered. Wind found itself whispering through the pines and hemlocks that surrounded me.
I watched a beaver working near its lodge, perhaps arranging the favored poplar and quaking aspen branches that would become his family's food supply for that next winter. He seemed content in his work and because I sat motionless, was undisturbed by this creature called man. The red-tailed hawk that landed on a tall stump of what appeared to be a dead oak, did not seem to mind my presence, though there was little doubt he knew I was there. As I watched these two unsuspecting creatures, I had to smirk a bit. I remembered how fascinated my relatives from the cities would be when they saw a chipmunk at a local campground or perhaps a rabbit on the side of a dirt road whenever they'd come north to visit. I prided myself in my wilderness abilities to see things that photographers would spend days or perhaps weeks trying to witness, photograph, and take back with them to put in the pages of some magazine. At the same time I felt blessed with my appreciation for nature. I was a hunter and a fisherman, yes. But there was a huge difference in the way I went about my hunting or fishing. I had, and still have, a deep respect and love for the wilderness. I enjoy the beauty of it all. I enjoy the animals and birds, and the occasional moose or deer. I enjoy venison and fish too (far more healthy and less gory than man's need to raise beef specifically for killing and eating).
As I left this place; this place of peace, where man appeared not to have been, I found myself headed northwest through the woods. I knew, from an arial perspective, approximately where I was, and because I was single, and this was my week off from the labors of the furniture factory, I was content to come out where ever my feet might take me. Several times I saw deer, and once a red fox nearly ran over my feet before he realized I was there. It's amazing to see an animal running at top speed and then, when startled, make a ninety degree turn and vanish in the blink of an eye. I'd laugh right outloud. Why not? I was part of the scene. Nature and I were as one. Thinking back to the native American way of life most of us study throughout our school years, I couldn't help but to wonder if, perhaps, I was born in the wrong century. I'd discard that thought, though, realizing it was because of the time that I was living in, that I appreciated this trek through the mountains that much more.
The next day, after packing up my tent, and making sure that the area I had occupied, alone there in the night, was as if I had never been there, I made my way further through the woods. I could see a clearing in the distance. I could hear cars, further on, beyond that clearing. Then the little brook. The birches were all around me. And then a small trail. A very neatly kept trail. Little bridges made in the footpath. And then, as the goose-bumps consumed my flesh, I looked down at a little wooden plaque on the side of the trail. I saw the words, "The Road Not Taken." Under the title was the Robert Frost Poem and I felt as if I must still be back in my camp site, dreaming under the stars. This was far too coincidental, and way too weird.
I went with it. I followed the trail. And I came to a little gravel parking lot there on the side of the road. I had made it to Route 125 just below the Breadloaf Ski area. There before me, ironically, was the sign indicating that I had come out of my wilderness trek, having taken a direction untouched by man, and ended up at the Robert Frost Memorial Trail. I smiled, and fought off that feeling of, "Oh my God, this can't be real," and looked up to the heavens whispering under my breath, "Robert, I get it."