I have always been drawn to Robert Frost’s most popular poem, Road Not Taken. The idea of living some sort of “alternate”, more adventurous life strongly appealed to me. In my opinion, this poem highlights the value that American culture places on uniqueness, an aspect of our culture that I like very much.
I was encouraged to write poetry in my youth and, like Frost, was often drawn to the woods for inspiration. Deciduous forests have always filled my soul in a way that no other can. Perhaps Frost felt the same way.
I was elated to discover there was a place that, not only displayed Robert Frost’s poetry, but that a trail had also been created connecting his poems to the nature he wrote about. I could think of no better way to experience Frost, nor to begin my week in Vermont.
Having just landed at the Burlington airport only an hour prior, I pulled my rental car into the parking lot off of Route 125 in Ripton, Vermont. My heart raced when I saw the sign “Robert Frost Trail“, confirming I was indeed in the right place (GPS hadn’t worked so well in that area).
The trail is a series of two loops and that are connected by a short bridge over what I believe to be either the South Branch Middlebury River itself or a tributary of it. With the parking lot behind you, the trail begins to the right. I stepped onto the boardwalk ready for a spiritual experience. Little did I know, however, that this trail would unknowingly help me move through my resurfaced painful feelings of my divorce. I felt as though Frost’s poems were written just for me. Perhaps that’s the magic of his poetry.
It wasn’t long at all before I came to Frost’s first poem. I read it aloud:
It is no mistake that this poem was placed first along the trail. The Pasture was the first poem a reader would encounter in his first collection of poetry, North of Boston. It is an invitation after all, to join him on his journey. And as such, The Pasture highlights a beginning. It can be argued that this poem serves two purposes: 1) he introduces himself and 2) he invites the readers to join him on his journey through his poetry. With the placement of The Pasture, hikers are quite literally welcomed to the Interpretive Trail.
Already loving the experience, I continued on and quite quickly came to the next poem:
The Secret Sits
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
After reading this short poem, I leaned against the wooden barrier and contemplated the idea as I looked out at the natural scene displayed in front of me. It was here that I realized the placement of Frost’s posted poems was not by accident; instead, they were quite calculated.
The Secret Sits was perfectly placed here on the first loop (or ring) of the trail. The placement of this poem forces us to look away from the circle, in which skirts truth. Very interesting indeed.
After turning a corner, I came to A Winter Eden.
The subject matter of Frost’s A Winter Eden being winter’s place as the transition towards the rebirth of spring, it was hard not to feel that one might feels more connected to this poem in the late winter when snow still covered the ground. Still, it was possible to look at the surrounding area and imagine the scene Frost describes. I love Frost’s reimagined idea of Eden, one of a white canvas with hints of rebirth that is still to come.
After veering to the right, I came upon a bridge that would take me to the longer loop. I paused as if to cleanse the palette before continuing. I took in the fresh air, the blue sky and the sound of the water passing beneath me.
My heart raced as I left the boardwalk and entered a trail of the natural forest floor. My soul felt a rush as I navigated my footing over exposed roots and listened to the breeze sweep through the trees. It was easy to lose myself in this transcendental experience.
And just like that…there it was, posted on a plaque to the left: The Road Not Taken. I was all too happy to read this aloud, my voice quivering as the meaning touched me in a rather sentimental way.
The position of this poem can not be a mistake! Frost’s The Road Not Taken was posted just above an arrow pointing towards the trail, and right next to a more rugged trail with a tree having fallen across it like a gate. This setup quite literally posed the situation in the poem: stay on the expected path or venture off trying something different. Well, of course I couldn’t ignore such an obvious choice. And I – I took the one less traveled by.
So where did my venture off the beaten path lead me? A gorgeous view of the river. It indeed made all the difference.
After making it back onto the trail, I came upon In Hardwood Groves.
To me, this poem is about loss and how it is inevitable in the circle of life. In order for existence to continue, we must embrace the, perhaps painful, progression of death as it relates to the seemingly infinite circle. To me, this piece is about letting go and the acceptance of loss.
A poem that caught my attention simply due to its name, was A Young Birch. The birch has always been my favorite type of tree. I love how the white stands out against the evergreens. It is of note that an adolescent birch was leaning only feet away from the poem.
Death is inevitable, unavoidable, imminent. Death is stronger than life and the acceptance of death benefits us. These are my takeaways after experiencing this poem. I also personalized these messages by letting the words advise me to “let go” and radically accept the inevitability of the end. The sooner I accepted that my relationship with my ex was all in the past, the sooner I could move on.
Continuing upon the path led me to beautiful view. Even without a poem to read, I paused at this spot offering my appreciation for the sheer natural beauty of this tiny part of the earth at that exact time.
I soon came across Frost’s The Last Mowing, which to me speaks to the urgency of now. The joy of liberation from one obstacle lends itself to yet another. The window of time to act is closing.
I have always loved the idea of nature taking its soul back. My Indigenous Knowledge and Knowing professor in grad school used to remind us that a single blade of grass can push up a sidewalk.
Personally, this poem highlights the beauty of a new (and unexpected) beginning. Sometimes the end of something, that had become so routine, is a good thing.
The last poem I encountered at the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail was Reluctance, which speaks to the natural instinct of humankind to resist change. In this way, I felt validated in my reluctance to accept reality and move on. Resisting that something has ended is, simply put, human. No one can stop the seasons; Nor can one reclaim a lost love that is truly gone.
I visited in the first week of May and although it seemed like the perfect time to visit, I have a feeling that anytime would be a good time to enjoy the trail. In fact, I’d like to go back in various seasons as I have a feeling that this same trail would offer an entirely different experience.
Later during my week in Vermont (Royalton), I was inspired to write my own poem, entitled Leaving the Nest. It takes place on a trail through the woods near my AirBnB.
A Note About Accessibility
I had researched locations that were good for folks with mobility issues as both my parents had some difficulty with prolonged movement, including walking on an other-than-flat surface.
The first loop consists of a well-maintained flat boardwalk, making it wheelchair-friendly. It is comfortable for the person in the wheelchair (not bumpy) and easy for the person pushing the chair. If a walker has a single-pronged cane, they should take extra care walking as the slates in the boardwalk might be just large enough for your cane to get caught in. This would not be the case with a multi-pronged cane. There were also several well-placed benches to sit upon, to take a rest, enjoy the woods or to reflect on Frost’s poetry.
The second loop (connected by a small bridge) takes you off the wheelchair-friendly boardwalk and into the natural forest floor. The beginning of this section might be challenging for some with balance issues as there are some exposed roots and a few steps in elevation, but then it flattens out again for the rest of the trail.