I have been watching
changing autumn leaves
closely this year
seeking a metaphor.
I wrote that one many years ago.
The other is quite famous, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, which begins:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…
If you know the poem (if not, take a look now) you know that in a few short stanzas the poet chooses a path to take and walks on, thinking:
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
He concludes, ‘with a sigh’ that the choice he made ‘has made all the difference’.
This is a classic poem, which beautifully captures the moment of and ramifications of choices we make. But, to return to the reason I’ve included my little snippet, audaciously sharing space with one of the finest American poets…
I found myself, after our annual Thanksgiving Day road trip, thinking about the metaphor of that travel fiasco. Our car joins tens of thousands of others on a three-lane, modern highway, heading west. Obviously, using the speedy, wide, direct (cutting through mountains and valleys) route is the smart way to go. Newer is better, bigger is better, direct is better… it just makes sense. Even though we know that there will be too many vehicles and the road will become clogged, we take the on ramp and join the surge. And crawl for an hour and a half, covering perhaps 30 miles.
When it becomes obvious and inevitable that we will be late for the Thanksgiving meal, we choose to bail and try back roads, to make the trip a little ‘adventure’. Small towns, traffic lights (but not too many) and long stretches of road through beautiful snowy woods. Most of all we are moving and that is satisfying. There is more to the tale, concluding with our arrival just as grace was being said. But I am going back, once again to the search for metaphor.
When I was young, ‘just starting out’, as they say, I imagined that I would follow that straight clear highway into my future. I thought perhaps a career in journalism or a scholarly profession was my goal, just ahead, out of sight. But the direct, high-speed route seemed to be the obvious choice. Carry on, forward, full speed ahead.
Like Frost’s seemingly random choice of path, I don’t really know what factors led me to take side roads, but soon I lost sight of the highway. I could still hear the steady roar of passing vehicles, and that was often distracting. Constant, droning voices telling me to get back on the big road. Now. Take this turn and go back. Head for: career, success, achievement.
I didn’t take the turn. I never did go back to the high-speed road, with its promise of getting somewhere important. I wandered from one side road to another, having adventures, certainly hitting some rough patches, but never trapped in heavy traffic. There was always another side road, off of the side road, some of them without signposts. The slow-paced journey of my life does not require an arrival to satisfy me. I guess I’ll just keep seeking metaphors.