Cathy-Hird-trafficBy Cathy Hird
The interstate crested the ridge after a long steady climb. Across a wide valley, a line of hills rose, with another behind and a third higher and shrouded in mist. The place we were headed lay beyond those mountains. A hydro corridor cut straight through the heavy forest of the nearest hill, but there was no sign of our road beyond the tarmac right in front of us, heading down.

Part way across the valley, large signs began to flash a warning, "One lane ahead." We began to consider our options: stay on the interstate or find a back road to avoid construction? As we debated, the opening of a Robert Frost poem came to mind. Let me quote the whole in case you don't remember it all.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

On our trip, we stayed on the interstate because the next two roads before the construction lead straight north into the hills and a national forest. We knew those small roads though less traveled, would twist and wind, and we still had 250 miles to go. In a few miles, we doubted our choice when the traffic stopped dead as we struggled to merge two lanes into one. Then slowed to a crawl again as cars waited for heavy transport trucks to make their way up the long climbs. There was a long, stop-and-go hour to travel seven and a half miles.

It was hard to be patient when the traffic sat still. It was hard not to give in to frustration when, at the point that we had almost merged, four cars zipped past in the empty lane to get to the front, delaying us again. It was nerve wracking as each time we headed down a slope, the blue tanker truck behind us crept right up to our bumper, stayed there even as the traffic clearly slowed ahead of us as the road climbed again. We wondered if the winding smaller highway would have been faster after all.

At the end of the construction, the road opened up and traffic sped up to 70mph. We made our way through valleys and across several lines of mountains. Then we turned off the interstate for the last 60 miles, and the speed limit went from 70 down to 50. People more familiar with the road zipped around me in the few places where passing was allowed as the road twisted around tight corners, climbed steep slopes, plunged down and around the side of another mountain. In each of the small towns, we slowed to 35. We saw the construction of small towns, the condition of the paint on the wooden houses, the Fourth of July decorations.

This small highway was beautiful, and we saw streams and forests up close though there were not the expansive views that the interstate provided. We guessed that even with the construction delay, we would get to our destination much faster because we stuck to the interstate. We will never know for sure.

Roads split all the time. We choose based on the information we have, what we can see in front of us and on the map. (Earlier in the trip we saw a warning sign, "Follow construction signs not your GPS!") With Robert Frost, we can wonder what would have been if we had taken the other turn. We can take the advice of the Daoist Laozi, remembering that "The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a step." Or we can listen to Bilbo Baggins when he reminds his nephew that "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door...You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain, or even further and to worse places?" (The Fellowship of the Ring, p 83) They all remind us that we may choose the road but we do not control the path.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.


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