The Road Not Taken

I can see Robert Frost’s yellow wood.

In my mind, it’s always Fall and always the golden hour before sunset. A thick layer of leaves blankets the ground and yet every tree is full, as if not a leaf has fallen.

This image has been bubbling up uninvited these past few months. One minute I’m working and the next I’m leaning back in my chair as my mind wanders through a mashup of Van Gogh yellow and Klimt gold and a wee bit of Hudson River Valley, all bathed in amber.

“The road not taken” is the phrase spoken by the unknown voice for the image, kin to “if you build it they will come” for cornfields. Always the same thing. My mind wanders, fighting Frost’s “nothing gold can stay” and thinking about that very golden road.

The teacher who introduced me to “The Road Not Taken” taught that it was about being an individual and taking risks, and marching to a different drummer—and I drank the Koolaid and believed her. Never occurred to me to ask if “all the difference” made by the road taken was really a good thing.

Go back to the poem, and both paths are equally trodden. The one taken wasn’t better or worse. It was different. Nothing in the poem indicates that the other road would have been a bad one to take, yet . . . There’s this notion that not taking it was the right decision.

I’ve been thinking about the roads we travel to share our work and how hundreds of years ago the road was clear, less cluttered vs now, with so many distractions. Is one better than the other? Both are equally trodden, but with different versions of the same problems.

Think about two roads.

One road is post Gutenberg, but also pre-mass communication, before the phone and TV and computer and everything else we have today.

The other road reflects today, with smart phones and smart TVs and smart shoes and all other sorts of smartily smart things.

Road one is rather clear. As time ticks, maybe a billboard starts to pop up. Maybe a car passes and a rest stop appears on the horizon, and other people start to travel the road, and those people share one by one.

The other road is cluttered and noisy. All people on that road do is share and talk and jabber. It’s like navigating through the fog, but on a clear day, with fog replaced by people and images and tweets.

Road one dictates that there are fewer interactions, but when they occur, there’s meaning and they’re remembered.

Road two dictates millions of interactions, but when they occur, they’re insignificant and forgotten. You have to work harder to give and receive meaning.

The road I keep going back to is road one. Less communication. Less clutter.

That road worked for a long time, yet there’s this push to go down a different road. Don’t do what’s been done in the past. Keep looking to the future, to the road yet to be taken.

Why?

Maybe instead of traveling toward the next big thing, the better choice is u-turning toward the past and tapping into what has always worked.

Hard work has always worked.

Being honest has always worked.

Doing the right thing has always worked.

Keeping promises has always worked.

Being transparent has always worked.

Creating something of value has always worked.

Starting small has always worked.

Communicating in more than 140 characters has always worked.

Picking up the phone or meeting in person, instead of only texting or emailing has always worked.

For 2019, I’m looking toward a road of doing less of what’s on the cluttered road and more of the clear road, the old road, the one that worked for years. I want to travel both roads, worn really about the same. I don’t want to sigh somewhere ages and ages hence.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And then cut through the woods and traveled the other road, too,
And that has made all the difference.

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21 Comments

  1. Paulinho Uda on December 28, 2018 at 4:21 am

    Hello Callie, I liked how you described the two roads. But what I’ve been thinking about is that the roads will always change, there will always be new roads with new technologies.

    But do we know where we want to go?
    For those who do not have a purpose for life or a higher purpose, any road serves.

    Technology can make our lives easier, more practical and comfortable, but it has also become the source of our problems – we forget who we are and stop growing as human beings, focusing only on technology.

    Human evolution is not measured by the technology attained, but by the knowledge acquired about ourselves. Technology can also give us power, but technology can not save humanity if we do not know where we are going. Because if the chosen road leads us to a cliff, the only thing technology can do for humanity is to get us there faster.

    Delphi was always right. Knowing yourself is still the best GPS for any road.
    Thanks Callie.

  2. Ben May on December 28, 2018 at 6:16 am

    This quote reminds me of a friend I had years ago. She lived in a cabin she built deep in the woods in Monroe Washington. She never watched her TV. She saw things so clearly, even me. I miss her so much. She represents the road I didn’t take…yet.

  3. Jerry Ellis on December 28, 2018 at 6:17 am

    Good piece, Callie! Thank you.

  4. Mary Doyle on December 28, 2018 at 6:45 am

    Beautiful New Year’s post Callie – thank you!

  5. Gwen Abitz on December 28, 2018 at 7:13 am

    Not sure “the message” that was given to me when supposed to be returning to to South Carolina after picking up my new Schnoodle Puppy, Zoe in North Carolina. Even though the road I had taken I heard myself saying this doesn’t look familiar and checking OK I am on 77 North it was not until I came to the sign that said Welcome to Virginia that I came out of whatever zone I was in and realized what I had done. So I needed to get off at the next exit and turn myself around and get on 77 South. Needless to say I was in tears. After 4 hours of driving I was no closure to my destination then when I originally left Charlotte after taking the wrong road off 485 to where I had to get back too to get on 77 South. All I can think of is that for 6 months I did what I read in Jack Canfield’s, THE SUCCESS PRINCIPLES. believing what you want already exists. I put this strategy into affect of wanting to relocate to Fearrington Village near Chapel HIll, NC. OH Well; not going to “give up” on THE DREAM.

  6. Susan Setteducato on December 28, 2018 at 7:33 am

    Planning to be on that quieter road with you, Callie. Beautiful thoughtful post. Happy New Year!

  7. Joseph Dobrian on December 28, 2018 at 7:39 am

    “The Road Not Taken” is the most misunderstood poem in the world. It is NOT about individualism. It is NOT about choices. It’s supposed to be a funny poem, with the poet poking fun at himself for dramatizing this utterly mundane moment. For years and years, English teachers all over the world have been crooning, “Isn’t that a wonderful lesson, childreeen? We must never be afraid to take the road less-traveled-by, right?” For God’s sake, people, read the whole poem! The key line is, “I shall be telling this years hence.” The poet is saying, “One of these days, I’ll be self-importantly and vaingloriously boasting of having taken the road less-traveled-by, and claiming that that has made all the difference.”

  8. Joe Jansen on December 28, 2018 at 7:47 am

    This one is reflective and with depth. I don’t think I knew about Klimt, so went looking and now I know a little, so thanks for that. It seems that Klimt himself trod his own road less traveled. I was especially taken with his painting “Medicine” (and especially especially its depiction of the goddess Hygieia).

    On simplicity, in all of 2018 I don’t think I was ever happier and more at peace than when we were 25 miles deep into northwest Montana’s backcountry in August. Out of cell range, phones good for nothing but taking photos, and a helicopter ride away from rescue if you screwed up. Among the men you call “closest friends.”

    And mindful of everything. Evvvvrything. Head on a swivel: you’re in bear country. Look at the map: How far is your trek today? How many hours of daylight? Where is water? Watch where you place your feet: A twisted ankle at home means you have an excuse to sit on the couch and catch up on Mrs. Maisel. Out here, your carelessness may put you in dire straits. Account for every scrap of food and carry out every bit of trash: there’s reason here to treat the land with reverence.

    You write about simplicity and putting aside the clutter and turning down the volume on all the noise. Amen, sister.

    I hope your road also leads to more of your own writing.

  9. Lyn Blair on December 28, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Follow your heart, your higher self. Your list of what has always worked points to what’s true — honesty, hard work, integrity, transparency, creating value, etc.

    Interesting how we can interpret differently. To me the story was a metaphor about spiritual and material roads.

    I always saw the less traveled road as the one that your heart and higher self pointed to, away from the material world’s lures and glitter that turn into empty goals and false dreams. Many people chase after money or plastic surgery to make their bodies more beautiful,, only to find that once achieving it, happiness still eludes them. I met a millionaire once who was one of the most miserable, sad people I’d ever encountered. I never did see him smile.

    People hunger for new technologies, the latest designer clothes or other fancy gadgets thinking the latest and greatest will make them happy. Like chasing the horizon, they never find themselves or what will bring enduring joy or peace.

    I think we all cut back and forth between these roads. It’s the nature of the human experience. When the exhilaration of the iPhone 10 on Christmas morning flitters and fades, we look elsewhere. Perhaps that’s when we notice our child’s radiant smile beaming from an innocent, fresh perspective. Or it’s when we gaze at the beauty of a vast sunrise that offers the promise of something greater than ourselves.

    These less tangible moments are my happiest ones and I find them on the road I want to travel more often.

  10. Charlotte Rodziewicz on December 28, 2018 at 8:00 am

    Thank you, Callie. You inspired me to remember these lines from Eliot’s Little Gidding:

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

  11. Ken Mannie on December 28, 2018 at 8:15 am

    Callie — This is so on-point on so many levels! Thank you for writing this. Thank you for the clarity and perspective of all things truly meaningful and important. Hope you’re well. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  12. gene czaplinsky on December 28, 2018 at 9:06 am

    The road less traveled exists in each one of us. Our own road. Knowing it exists, we have to be brave enough to take it into the depths of our own being, our own artistry, our own soul. The path exudes who and what we really are, expressed in the clearest most profound way. Past the underbrush, the pot holes, the threatening clouds, we follow it back, back to who we really were before the world homogenized our intentions. The road less traveled is the darkest, deepest path that leads to the untold, the truth of being who we were meant to be.

  13. William Cadmus on December 28, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    I had to reread the poem. Struck by your personal take on the effect it had upon you. As we approach the fork, we cannot see what is at each road end. Where they lead. But, we move on faith. Following the spirit within us, as it is drawn left or right. We choose. Thank you for providing this path to contemplating my road taken.

  14. Elisabeth on December 28, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Thoughtful post, Callie, but those things you said always worked … well, not always. That is in fact why people looked to develop new ways of doing things—because old ways stopped working in today’s world. Closing yourself off is a great way to get more written but eventually you will need to be part of today’s world. Embrace change as well as revere old ways. It’s never either or, but a combination that balances our world.

  15. Kyle on December 30, 2018 at 2:42 am

    Very visual. Thanks!
    – K

  16. Consuelo Castanuela Helbling on December 30, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Callie, I had to back to check…nice job on the addition. YES! I am doing the very same thing. It’s impossible to not travel the busy road. But, yes, we have the option to travel back and forth between them. At this time, I am working to unclutter the road, to let go of a lot of stuff that needs to go.

  17. Troy Kechely on January 1, 2019 at 10:40 am

    As I ponder taking a particular path in life this blog has given me reason to pause, pray, reflect, and contemplate.

  18. Kitty on January 2, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Beautifully written, Callie.

  19. Elizabeth on January 9, 2019 at 9:51 am

    It has been many, many years since I read that poem. Being reminded of it makes me realize it left an impression, because I changed the time frame of my novel from
    present day to the 1950s some time ago. That felt right from the instant I did. We need to remember things, feel things, and that gets harder every time I read – or send –
    an email rather than call someone, or write a letter, or go to see them to look them in the eye, and say, “I’m here; you are important to me, I miss you.”
    Technology is great, BUT … I think we lose a bit of our humanity each time we bypass human connection for convenience.
    Writing this book was/is definitely the road for me.
    End of rant.

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