Taking "The Road Less Traveled"

Think back on all of the things you set out to do at the beginning of the year. Think back further to those things you promised to do by the time you reached thirty or forty or fifty. Any regrets? How many things on that list have you set out in full determination to do, but in the end, that devil on your shoulder warned you against starting, telling you that you're too old, too young, too out of shape, too afraid? Too often we listen to that nagging voice telling us that we "can't" or we "shouldn't." Too often, that voice leads to opportunities lost. Now think back on all the times you went with your gut feeling, not that voice in your ear. I would bet that nine times out of ten, despite the fear and the doubt, you came out feeling like you were on top. Pretty remarkable feeling, wouldn't you say?

It's so easy to succumb to the "voice of reason," we hear screaming inside. Don't get me wrong, sometimes that is the voice to heed. But I'm talking about dreams here, not those decisions that bring into question our duties or responsibilities. I'm talking about that personal something that you've always wanted to accomplish for yourself, but were too afraid. Those goals we set at the beginning of the year like running a marathon, losing 15 pounds, taking a trip solo, or conquering a phobia. When we have a dream or a goal, we mean well, don't we? We set out to do it. But something keeps us from it. There's that voice, that deafening voice that serves as an insurmountable barricade, and keeps us from taking that first step. It whispers, taunting us by saying that we're not good enough, not serious enough, not ambitious enough, not smart enough, and not brave enough. Ironic isn't it that all too often that voice echoes in the same timbre of our mother, our father, our husband or wife, even our children. Imagine your dream; it could be ambitious, something that will take years to accomplish, or even something small and personal to bring you a little happiness. The possibilities abound when you are able to ignore the voices, and take that first step forward. I did, and it completely altered my perspective on where I was headed in life.

My fiancÚ and I just recently relocated from sunny Florida to the green and rolling horse farms of central Kentucky. We had both grown up in the Sunshine State and had little desire to leave until he was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Kentucky's School of Law. It was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to friends and family, 100% humidity, and the tourist-filled streets. Once we arrived in Lexington, we found that there were more than hurricanes and humidity missing. People's accents were different, there was no Cuban food to be found in any of the ethnic food aisles, and jobs that had been abundant in the South were not as easily available up in the bluegrass.

It was after a month of job-hunting (as though it were my job), that I decided I needed to take myself on an outing. I had been cooped up in the apartment, sending resumes, sending thank you letters, desperate for human interaction and even more desperate for a job. The pressure and the disappointment were mounting. Yes, it was definitely time for an outing. I consulted my handy "Welcome to Kentucky" guide that the Kentucky Visitor's Bureau had graciously supplied me with, skeptical of what I might find. I searched for attractions in the area, and one caught my eye right away: The Raven Run Sanctuary. "A Sanctuary," I thought to myself, "Now there's just the thing I need." The description sounded promising, "a 470 acre nature sanctuary with over 10 miles of hiking trails."

I was intrigued. But something kept me from walking out the door just then. That voice, far in the back of my mind whispering "do you really thing this is a good idea?" I began to doubt myself. I picked up the phone and called a friend. Single and in her early twenties, it was practically effortless to get her to side with my wilder, adventure-seeking half. It only took a few minutes of conversation to convince me that I needed to change into a pair of shorts, a tank top and some good walking shoes, and head out the door. My more cautious side prompted me to grab a small backpack into which I threw a Swiss army knife, a sweater, and a bottle of water. I was dressed and out the door within ten minutes of having spoken to my friend.

The drive to the nature sanctuary was calming and pleasant. I rolled all of the windows down and turned the radio off, enjoying the sounds of tractors, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the feel of the blowing wind along the way. The sanctuary was about forty minutes from where I live in Lexington, and the further I drove, the more I was reminded of the film "Deliverance" and the unforgettable "You ain't from these parts, are ya'?" scene, complete with "Dueling Banjos" orchestrating my imagination. Again, the voice came back warning "this is foolish, anything could happen out here!" A slight bump in the road had me worried that my tire had gone flat, a wrong turn wondering if I might be shot at for having trespassed.

After having unknowingly driven past the entrance to the park twice, I was almost ready to give up, but I thought "what the hell, I've come this far!" I had finally made it to the parking lot, and to my horror, there was only one other car parked there. "Oh lord," the voice said, "you're going to be murdered or worse out here in the woods by yourself, and no one will find your body for weeks, or even months." I took some solace in knowing that at the very least I had told my friend where I was headed. Even my fiancÚ had no idea of my intention to go hiking on a whim.

There was a sign that pointed to the "Nature Center." I figured there would be someone there whom I could ask about the safety of a young girl hiking on her own. I picked up an abandoned walking stick, and started down a cemented path that lead through a wood. It was quiet. I looked ahead, and saw nothing but the path. I looked behind, and saw the same. On either side were trees, and trees, and more trees. But I kept on, and eventually came to an opening where there sat a small house with a sign marking it as the Nature Center. A barn sat behind the house.

There was not a soul to be seen, although there were four cars parked near the small building. Employee's cars I guessed, although I did not see any employees. At the window there was a sign in sheet and a pile of maps with a rock laid on top to keep the wind from blowing them away. I glanced down the list. There had been six sets of visitors that day, all of which had already come and gone except for one couple. No one had come on their own I noticed, and most had remarked that this was not their first visit to the sanctuary. I carefully wrote in my name. I wanted to be sure that it was legible in case I was killed or bitten by a snake or attacked by a bear. I listed the make and model of my car, the number in my party (one), and stated this was my first visit to the park. "Maybe I should lie," I pondered, just in case some sick bastard chanced a look and decided to hunt down some ignorant city girl in the woods that day. I decided I'd take my chances. I opened my map, gripped my walking stick anxiously, and took my first steps down the path, starting my journey. It took me about a half hour of walking to get used to the idea that I would not be running in to other people.

There was a sign posted that said "Overlook." "That sounds nice," I thought, and headed in the direction it pointed toward. I came to a fork in the road, and consulted my handy, Xerox-copied map. Either path would lead me to the overlook, so which one to take? Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled" came to mind. Both looked pretty well defined, but feeling inspired, I took notice that the path to the right led into the woods, the other through a flowered field, and I made the decision that any reader of that poem would make, "and I took the road less traveled by." It led me deep into a forest. Not a sound could be heard save for the fall of leaves and my own labored breathing as I trekked up and down the hillside. Then came the echo of my fiance's voice in my head wisely stating "you should not be doing this by yourself." I kept on with some trepidation. And then I stopped dead in my tracks. A doe with her fawn were lunching on a bush. It was the closest I had ever been to nature. I stood quite still until my joints felt stiff and I became eager for a better look. My step forward alerted them to my presence and they dashed off, leaping further into the wilderness. I kept on. I was beginning to feel better about this, until I had a moment of dread recalling scenes from the "Blair Witch" film. What if the paths were changing continuously and I ended up lost forever? What if I was reading the map incorrectly? I took a deep breath, and with great effort, worked again to quiet these voices of the skeptical city girl.

After about an hour of hiking, I realized that I was walking quite near a Cliffside. Again fear. Fear of heights this time. I thought I could see water below, but was too nervous to bend over the side and take a better look. I decided just to keep on my path. It wasn't long until I reached the end. There were several large boulders in front of me, and I mustered up the courage and climbed from one down to another. I had not prepared myself for the spectacular view that surrounded me. It had all been worth it; all the fear, all the anxiety, all the doubt. I stood about thirty stories above a river, and across me and on all sides of me were cliff walls, cutting sharply into the grey-blue waters below. And for the first time since I had set out on this outing, on this search for sanctuary, I felt peace. And more than that, I felt accomplishment. I had conquered all of my urban fears to venture out into a breathtaking timeless moment, hidden away from everyone else at that particular point in time, feeling as though all of the trees and cliffs and the river below were available only to me. It was as though I had traveled through Alice's looking glass into another world, another time.

I don't recall how long I sat there, breathing in the fresh air, exhaling all of the tension I had carried with me from the start. The voice stopped then, and a new voice chimed in. "You did it," it said. "You weren't bitten by a snake; you weren't attacked by bears, or killed or raped by some mad man, or attacked by poison ivy." I felt like I could do anything just then. I had even braved sitting near the edge of the cliff to get a better look. And then I suddenly felt silly, realizing that I had spent all this time applying my knowledge and wariness of the asphalt jungle to this far less dangerous and far more inviting rural wilderness.

I started my hike back worry free and filled with vigor and pride and a sense of accomplishment. I thought back over all the pedicures and shopping sprees I had treated myself with. I thought back on the safe choices I had made that, in their own way were rewarding, but lacked any real challenge and therefore any reaffirming sense of "you can." I thought back and realized that this outing, this desperation for sanctuary turned adventure, was the best thing I had done for myself in years. And that has made all the difference.

The Road Less Traveled
by 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 onto 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 took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference

About the Author

Haley is a graduate from Florida State University's Department of Anthropology. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her fiancÚ, and spent most of her life in Florida. Interests are Latin American and Caribbean cultures, religion, symbol and ritual, issues concerned with self and social identity, and the arts (opera, theatre, and especially musical theatre).

Written by: Haley D. Sparks


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