It started on the well-worn route behind the ‘best beds in the world’ Relyon factory just around the corner from where we live in Wellington, Somerset. The footpath is a narrow one, overhung with spindly branches in winter and brambles (and spindly branches) in summer. It is the local ‘dog poo alley’ so the walk is usually less than relaxed, sidestepping as one must the deposits left by the myriad mutts that live close by. On this day though I decided, as at 5pm the sun continued to shine on the fields behind the sewage works, to extend the walk past this local eyesore and on into the real countryside that we are lucky enough to have, if not on our doorstep, then within half a mile of our house.
Something – perhaps the smell of some unidentified hedgerow blossom or the sun on my face, or the fact that the path was much clearer and drier than usual – made me feel adventurous and instead of turning right to cross the railway line (one of those horrid crossings where there are no warnings and you actually have to do the Green Cross Code to avoid an Inter-City) I went straight ahead.
I quickly realised I had never taken this path before. This strange March, in which we have seemed to skip a season, has given us the opportunity to see a landscape of trees devoid of leaves in the sort of weather usually enjoyed only when they are in good leaf and hiding many views that are stunningly beautiful. And so it was with this path, which was dry and broad with just a hint of green so all the tree trunks and shades of bark were visible. It was hot, but the birds were singing in a way they never do in summer when their fledglings have flown. And I couldn’t get over the smell – it was so very fresh. At times this area can have a somewhat rural odour, particularly when the fields are spread with slurry. But not at the moment – the air was so fresh it encouraged the taking of great lung-fulls. I realised I was deeply relaxed, even as I puffed along, utterly ‘mindful’ of my surroundings.
Of course I never thought about the distance, or where the path would lead me. I went on and on, the path almost running alongside the mainline track to Exeter at one point; trains rushing past occasionally, bringing me out of what had become a reverie. Dog? What dog? Mercifully he was paying attention and stayed within view. Eventually I came out on the road from the village of Nynehead which eventually leads back onto the junction with the brand new housing estate built on the edge of our town. I had to walk the pavement alongside the main road, with traffic of the late rush-hour hurtling past. But even that didn’t seem to matter. I am invariably taking this route in the car so pay no attention to the impression of the area that a stranger might get. Ever since taking part in a river of small stones led by Writing our Way Home 18 months ago I have been more aware of ‘mindful writing’ – looking at something, paying it real attention and then writing about it as an aid to really engaging with our surroundings. In the rush of the every day I rarely manage to take the time necessary though; so this was my opportunity. Looking around I really saw the small industrial estate screened by trees, the enormous lime green sign directing people to Asda followed closely by some rather attractive old houses, the parish church and the Georgian buildings, now converted into somewhat scruffy flats. Then I got to the high street of what anyone taking notice would consider a fairly straightforward and functional place. Nothing special, but surely worth more than that bare glance I usually give it? After all it nestles between the Blackdown and Quantock Hills and if not thriving is at least still a working town.
When I got home, I tweeted how I had enjoyed the experience, remembering a classic poem by Robert Frost that fits the mood perfectly – The Road Not Taken. I appreciated, for a change, that however dull I might consider my surroundings sometimes, when the sun is shining and a chance is taken it can open up a whole new viewpoint. This may not be the perfect idyll, but for an hour on that Thursday, taking that path made ‘all the difference’ and as a metaphor, chancing a new path is something I wish I had done more often in my life.
I have included the full poem below. It is beautiful in its simplicity but so profoundly true.
A little like my walk.
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 travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost 1916)