Ch.1 - Two Roads Diverged
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;
It started with a text. A call for help. Time and experience had eroded and distorted what should be into what was, and what was had become too much to bear. The nightmares clawed and scratched until what was real and what was false, what was past and what is present, and what will be, were all entangled and unrecognizable from one another.
The caller was desperate. I was helpless. I recommended books, and people to talk to, and all the things you do when you approach life as if it’s a problem to be solved with logic, because you’re not equipped or too uncomfortable to recon with what may be lurking in the shadows. The most reasonable thing that came to mind was to suggest a short trip to a place that seems to always help me switch everything off and just take a breath. Maybe that was at least some of what the caller needed. A clean, cool breath of air.
So, we made plans, the caller had never been and was interested. My insistence that Yosemite was worth seeing before death, was persuasive enough. In truth, I needed it as well. My own discontent that so often awakens on winter weeks when work is tedious, and the days are too short had begun to rear it’s ugly head.
The caller reached out again the night before our departure. The weight of his reality was crushing, maybe immobilizing. Maybe the trip needed to be canceled and affairs put in order. Maybe there would never be a Yosemite in Winter for him. I hoped there would be. I made calls to make sure. The intercession, however inept, seemed to work. We regrouped and moved forward. Into the woods.
Ch. 2 - The Other Road
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,
Anyone traveling to Yosemite from any distance on the west coast most certainly has to drive through the towns most people only ever want to drive through. The central valley towns that are miserably hot and hazy in the summer and dreary and gray in the winter. The stench of mass production cattle stagnating like a dense fog in the air, penetrating anything that passes through it. Eventually the outlet malls and cattle lots give way to citrus, and then the scattered oaks of the foothills mark the ascent.
My preferred entry into the park, however, is through Tioga pass. It’s a about 2 hours longer to the Valley this way from where I live, but it’s worth it. Up the 395 through Lone Pine, Bishop, Mammoth, and then Lee Vining where we take a left onto Highway 120 to make our steep ascent, strait into the heart of the Sierra.
The 395 is most certainly my favorite stretch of road in the US at this moment. For the last 3 years I have been obsessing over it. My final projects for my BA were done along that road. The Sierra jets strait up into the clouds from a high desert plain on your left and the rolling hills of the White Mountains ascend on your right. These natural wonders have become the back drops for Westerns, wilderness brand campaigns, the ever invasive species of “social media influencer”, and of not just a few broken dreams.
Ruins of homesteads with their stone and rough pine houses fall further from recognition as the wear of harsh weather takes its toll in the more obscure parts of the road. Whether they were once dreams fulfilled or broken they now become an interesting foreground element in not just a few landscape images captured on that road, adding mystery to a thoughtful composition.
At the same time, a few communities continue to survive and thrive. Clustered in small manageable towns about an hour or so apart, all the way up the road, catering to the many travelers on their way to Mammoth or June in winter, or to the many Sierra lakes and trails the rest of the year. I have wondered what makes the difference between those who fell into ruin and those that survived, and have settled on the potentiality that isolation as an end, rather than a temporary means of therapy, inevitably ends in ruin.
In Winter and Spring, the white of the mountains against the red rock and green Ponderosa Pine create a minimal and complimentary visual pallet, drawing out the texture and depth. If I have time, I always take this route to the park.
Alas, Tioga Pass closes for the season in October or November each year so I was stuck with the faster route, with Bakersfield and Fresno and all the places I forget the names of in between the Tejon Ranch and Oakhurst, places I am ever so happy to only pass through, as fast as I can. My vents closed to avoid the stagnant scent of feedlot cattle manure stuck in the lingering fog.
Ch.3 - And both that morning equally lay
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 arrived late, we greeted as brothers with a firm but brief hug and enjoyed a few Djarum Specials, a novelty I had not had since my early 20s. Then we slept a few hours, waking early, predawn for sunrise.
For my fellow traveler, our first day had been a victory. A sunrise, an excellent breakfast in the Grand Dining Room, because why not, followed by a moderately strenuous hike as the storm rolled in. We were cold and wet and tired after our stormy hike. Sore a bit from slipping and sliding our way down the icy trail, yet utterly satisfied in spirit. There was a painful need to match the stomach with the spirit and so we walked into one of the finer dining establishments in our now soggy yet well branded vestments of the outdoorsy types, to do just that.
The waiter arrived and began to tell us about the specials for the evening. Something about crusted and truffles and maybe mashed potatoes. His Southeast Asian accent was thick and our fatigue had begun to cloud our minds making it difficult to comprehend what it was that we were ordering? But we agreed that the special sounded great, or at least the enthusiastic delivery sounded great. After all he did say something about truffle. Can you really go wrong with a chef who invokes truffle?
An observation, that is of course at once entirely obvious, but no less profound in the moment, is that when one does something tiresome but ultimately good, there is an intense wave of contentment that comes over you. This was the result of our days efforts, utter contentment. It was like a great sigh of relief as the snow began to pile on our cars and the canvas of our tent, thick and soft. I wondered how often in the last few years my companion had felt this. I wondered if it wouldn’t do him some good.
Ch. 4 - Somewhere ages and ages Hence
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.
I quit my job once. I mean I have quit a few jobs in the past. For various reason. But this was a dream job. A job most people would envy. I quit my dream job to pursue another dream. It wasn’t as big of a dream, but something that seemed to be slipping away with time. I felt stagnant, so I quit. I took “the road less traveled” as they say.
Sometimes the dumbest things can be justified with a scarcity argument. I have heard some real horseshit ideas being packaged in the ever so glamorous wrapping of “no one else is doing it”. Usually once you do your research you see that tons of people are doing “it” and your arguments have to shift until eventually the sunken cost fallacy prevails over reality.
David Orr makes the argument that Frost’s famous The Road Not Taken is often misinterpreted and is really just a commentary on how our self-narratives become deluded to prop up our egos as we move down the road. That the poem is sort of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Maybe he’s right. Maybe all we are is delusional beings, making sense of things by lying to ourselves, and others, once enough time and distance passes between what was and what is.
But maybe he’s just trying to burst some bubbles by being contrarian. I don’t think he’s all wrong. Maybe he’s only partially wrong and Frost is simply pointing out both possibilities. That our memories are subject to our delusions, but that either way it all works out if you are still alive in “ages and ages hence” and have the benefit of seeing all the bizarre and wonderful twists and turns a life can take. If you make it, what is wrong with projecting some form of providence on all the coincidences and wisdom to the few decisions that are actually ours to make.
Maybe in “ages and ages hence” I will have the same insight and outlook. Right now I just don’t care. What I really want now is for the snow bombs falling from the heavily laden branches of the yellow pine towering over our cabin to stop pounding the hell out the canvas roof so I can get some sleep. And my companion wishes to Christ I would stop snoring so damn loud.…
While making Vol.1
Bessel van der Kolk
Gregory Alan Isakov