The road less traveled is often the better route
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
These words from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” are used as an allegory on life — that doing one’s own thing and not going along with the crowd often makes the difference between an ordinary person and an artist such as Frost.
Members of my generation or older may remember Frost at Kennedy’s inauguration when a gust of wind blew the feeble old man’s poem (that he had written for the occasion) away, so he recited some lines of other works from memory. I was so impressed at the time that I read everything Frost had written, including “Road,” which I memorized.
Whether it was Frost’s influence or my German/Scotch-Irish ancestry, I find that I’m a back-road kind of guy. Given the choice, I’ll choose a winding, mountainous two-lane over an interstate anytime, much to the annoyance of my wife, who sometimes suffers from carsickness.
“Why,” I’m often asked, especially by the vision of loveliness beside me, although usually in an unlovely tone, “do you insist on taking these crooked, bumpy roads?”
And as I just as often explain, it’s because they are far more interesting than the main routes.
To me, travel is much more than just getting from one place to another. I like the ride, too, as do many aforementioned members of my generation who can remember Sunday rides as a major form of entertainment. I want to see something other than tire fragments and roadkills on my trip. I want to be able to rubberneck a little without becoming a hazard. I want to slow down, pull over, or even back up when I spot something interesting. Don’t try any of these on an interstate.
Even more than paved secondary roads, I enjoy a good dirt road, and more so than driving it, I prefer doing my traveling on Shank’s mare — that is, afoot. I prefer shoe-leather express to trailbikes, ATV’s, and other noisemakers. I need the exercise, but not for exercise’s sake, either. Frankly, if I had to do all my hoofing on a track like some of my friends, I would soon give it up. For me, a Game Commission game lands road or logging road across private ground makes for much better exercise. Here I never know what I’m going to see. Sometimes I only see sign, such as tracks around a mud puddle or simply a stray feather or two, but at other times whole dramas unfold.
One of my favorite memories is the time my dad, my mom, and my friend Johnny took an autumn stroll along a logging road near my home. As we rounded a bend, we came upon a large flock of turkeys, the first I had ever seen back in those days of yesteryear when deer were plentiful and turkeys were scarce. I know the spot to this day, and I’m always alert when I approach it in hunting season.
I was walking a game lands road when I killed my first gobbler many falls back. I came over a hill to see five or six big gobblers standing in the road. I took off running toward them, hoping to break them up (Note: this is not the best idea for hunting fall gobblers — generally it’s impossible to call them back together). They immediately tore off up the road with me in hot pursuit.
I chased them to the top of the next hill, where they disappeared at about the time my wind gave out. I stood against a tree to give a couple calls. When I did, one of them broke from hiding in the brush by the roadside back the way he had come. A load of No. 6’s flew straight, and a 9-inch beard and preserved long-spurred foot now rest among my trophies.
Since that memorable day I’ve discovered turkeys on mountain roads on numerous occasions. Sometimes I’ve even had a gun.
I’ve walked up on deer, too, although roads are not the best place to look for whitetails when other hunters are pushing them. Usually they clear the road in a bound and quickly disappear into the surroundings.
On a lonely road in Canada one summer I watched the mating ritual of the woodcock. Just as the books describe, the male rose nearly out of sight, then spiraled back to the ground, peent-ing the entire time. His mate stood patiently watching his antics.
I had some of my rare coyote sightings on a Gamelands road near a Commission deer pit the prairie wolves have learned to frequent. Near the same spot I once traced bear tracks bigger than my hand. Although it’s not happened as yet, someday I hope to see the critter that made them ambling down the same road.
I often encounter turtles or snakes along some country roads. Unlike some, I never run over them. Instead I “give them a brake” and remove them to the roadside.
John Denver sang, “Country road, take me home to the place I belong.”
My sentiments entirely.
Harry Guyer writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.