A Yellow Wood
Life Choices & Fall in New England
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
If that sounds familiar — it should — it’s the first line in a pretty famous poem.
I can recall having to memorize Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for English class in middle school. Clearly, it stuck with me as I can still recite every word to this day.
The Road Not Taken Robert Frost 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.
The lines most frequently come to mind around this time each year, especially when I’m home in Connecticut. I’ll go out running on one of the local trails and the imagery of Frost’s “yellow wood” engulfs me.
The image of the divergent path is so literal in my mind. The leaf-covered path forks and the trees, with their yellowing branches, obscure the path ahead. As I run through the woods, I think about the path I’ve taken in life; “the road less travelled.”
It was the last few lines that probably stuck with me most. I have always tried to take “the road less travelled;” forever choosing the path that no one else dared to take because it was different or challenging. This mindset is likely what led me to fall in love with running, and marathons in particular. The idea of suffering for some noteworthy accomplishment appealed to me. It’s also part of what lead me to move to San Francisco.
Choosing to move across the country, thousands and miles away from friends and family, is never an easy one. For me though, it was.
When the opportunity to move to SF was presented, it seemed like the perfect option. Moving across the country to such a vibrant and unique city was a bold move, and it wasn’t one many of peers would have chosen. Therefore, it was perfect for me – I was up for the challenge.
But here’s the thing, that’s not the point.
In preparing to write this post I decided to refresh my memory on the poem and it’s meaning. My research lead to a rude, but much needed, awakening. Evidently, this is one of the most widely misinterpreted poems… and I had fallen into it’s trap.
It’s a common misconception is that the poem is about “the road less travelled,” when in fact, the title is the poem is The Road Not Taken.
Frost was not praising himself or anyone else for blazing their own path. Rather, he’d written the poem to poke fun at friend for his incessant chattering about not having taken a different path on a walk they took together.
The poem of course goes far deeper than a joke at the expense of a friend. I could go line by line through my interpretation of the poem, but I’m assuming post readers won’t want to flash back to their middle school English class.
In it’s simplest form, the poem is telling us it’s silly to regret choices we’ve made in life as each metaphorical road we didn’t choose wouldn’t have changed our lives all that much.
And yet, it’s the culmination of each of the “roads” we chose that determines where we are in life…and where we’re going.
It’s incredibly easy to dwell on past decisions, and a trap I find myself falling into more often than I’d like to admit.
What if I’d taken a different job or moved to a different city? What if I hadn’t let myself fall for that guy, would my heart never have been broken? What if I had never decided to join the cross country team, would I ever have found my passion for running?
If I hadn’t made each and every decision I’ve made over the past twenty-five years, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And, despite everything that’s gone wrong over those past twenty-five years, I am extremely grateful for each decision I’ve made because I know I am exactly where I am meant to be.
As for the decision to move to SF, for that I am probably the most grateful. There have been more times than I’d care to admit where living in a strange city 4,000 miles away from my friends and family was extraordinarily lonely. While many of my co-workers had friends from college, or siblings, or cousins nearby, I had none. I toted myself on my ability to do things on my own and be perfectly content. In reality though, it was hard.
When you’re going through a really difficult time it’s tough not to question each and every decision you made that got you to that point.
It got easier though, I made friends with people who had made the same bold decisions and were struggling in the same ways I was, even if we didn’t always admit it to each other. I made more friends with people with whom I shared many common interests. We bonded over heartbreak, career struggles, and a love for the outdoors.
Furthermore, I learned how to say “no” to things and people that I weren’t serving me. I’m learning how to balance work and life, though that’s an ongoing battle. Ultimately though, I learned how to prioritize myself and my own happiness, and that by constantly forging my way down “the road less travelled,” I was setting myself up to be miserable.
One of the major factors in my decision to move to California was a desire to distance myself from where I grew up. I love my friends and family here, but I thought that I was bigger and better than our small town. Having spent nearly 6 months this past year living at home on and off, I realize how silly that notion was. I’m ever grateful for my choice to move to SF and I will never regret that. But I didn’t need to march down the road less travelled all the way across the country just to prove a point.
Or maybe I did.
Being away for so long has given me a renewed appreciation for the most wonderful time of year in small-town Connecticut. The trees are filled with bright and vibrant colors, the ground is coated in a bed of fallen leaves, and the air has a little bit of a chill in it – just enough that my nose gets a little red after taking the dog for a long walk.
So now as I run along the leaf-covered trails I think about my past decisions and about the long way I’ve travelled to get here. I think about the times I decided to take “the road less travelled,” because I thought I was up for the challenge and I might just impress a few people along the way. I chuckle a little as I go, thinking about how naive I was to believe that anyone cared if I did that. But really, that decision, the decision to run my first marathon, to move across the country to San Francisco, or even way back to high school, deciding to join the cross country team. Each of those decisions, they have made all the difference.
What decisions have made a difference in your life? What things did you question in the moment that, looking back now, have made all the difference? Share your thoughts in the comments below!