the road not taken

My mom grew up with this “The Land of Make Believe” poster and passed it along to me when I was a toddler. She hung it in my bedroom. I spent my childhood following the fantastic paths, flying on the magic carpet, and wanting to visit the Glass Mountain.

(click on the image to make it larger. it’s worth looking at in more detail!)

When I was 25, I moved to the beautiful coast of British Columbia with a then boyfriend. We lived a rather idyllic life for a short time. He was commuting into Vancouver for work, and I was at home learning how to make paper and soap with a neighbor and taking long woodsy walks with our cat. One of my splurges was to get internet access. Boyfriend didn’t understand why I wanted to communicate with people I didn’t know, halfway around the globe, but he went along with my whim. This was 1996 and my third computer. The world-wide-web was in its infancy. I had the joy of dial-up and Windows 95.
I was high-tech.

During my exploring of this networked realm, I came across travelers who had found inexpensive and adventurous ways to travel around the world. They worked on cargo ships, and had ingenious ways to get cheap airline tickets. If you remember what the Web looked like back then, it was pretty thrilling. (check out at 16:58 for a few seconds. ha!)

My imagination loved this traveling information I found and I planned, and schemed, and dreamt about adventures in other countries. This unknown future pulled me like a strong magnet.

Unfortunately, my partner wasn’t so excited about these ideas. I showed him pictures and budgets and tried to spark his adventuresome self, but it wasn’t where he was at the time.

I was at a crossroads.

My dad visited me from Brooklyn at my forested home in southern Illinois when I was 15 years old. We went for a walk in the beautiful Shawnee National Forest where he recited Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken“. The poem obviously had deep meaning to my dad, and because of that, it was important to me. The idea of different paths leading to different lives was intriguing to my young self.

Every choice you make in your life takes you down a specific path, each path has infinite branches. One day you take the highway home from work, another day you decide to take city streets home. The time you arrive home is different, the other drivers you encounter are different. That one day where you were looking down at your phone at a stop sign and the guy behind you had to honk for you to look up and cross, might be the day when that guy behind you gets t-boned two miles later because of that pause you took. If you hadn’t been there, he would have driven through that other intersection minutes before the drunk driver arrived. There is no way to know, and it’s useless to ponder that lest it drive you mad staring bug-eyed into the infinite.

There are times in one’s life where you know that this particular choice is going to set a path with no backtracking. Those days up on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia gave me that kind of choice.

I stayed with the young man and looked over my shoulder for a while. Eventually, the urge lessened, then faded into a dull hum, and over time to an invisible recurring background process.

We moved back to Oakland, then a year later to my hometown in Illinois. That is where our relationship ended. He left back to Oakland, and I moved to Chicago.

As I sit here in my new home, with a good corporate job and invisible recurring background process, living the life of a responsible adult, I wonder what life the me is having who left from Canada to parts unknown.

hic sunt dragones.


Almost ten years ago, we cremated my dad’s body. Then buried the boxed and bagged ashes at a cemetery in a woodsy Jewish cemetery in Queens, New York. Our family plot is right next to the gravel road that roams through the cemetery. When we gather for the anniversaries, we stand in the road and have to shuffle closer to the grass when a car drives slowly by, careful not to step on dad or grandpa’s grave marker.

I don’t much like cemeteries. Places to embalm our dead. They take up land so we can hold onto each year in remembrance. These tracts of the dead stretch out for miles upon miles. We have homeless people who sleep in squalor on the street while dead bodies are buried on acres of useable land. It betrays logic. Cemeteries are places of emotion and finance. How much does it cost a family each year to keep the grass trim above their beloved’s body, locked in that tomb? I don’t know what my dad thought of cemeteries, but I don’t think he much cared for them.

He wanted his ashes scattered over Walton Lake in upstate New York near the family summer-house, where as a kid he spent many summers fishing and swimming. That lake was special to him. He felt a freedom when he was at the lake, and a peace of mind that was rare in his life.

Instead, we took his boxed and bagged ashes, dug a hole in the ground at the family plot and buried ‘him’ there. It’s actually fairly impressive what a small container a body fits into once it’s lost itself.

What good is that headstone in that cemetery in Queens for those of us who lives so far away? It is an absent memorial. lf this physical memorial didn’t exist, the focus could be anywhere – perhaps floating free in the weedy waters of Walton Lake.

But now he is now static, fixed, in a far-away location. Embedded there is a concrete symbol. I’m somewhat resentful that there is this specific location stuck in my mind as related to him. We aren’t required to go there to mourn, but kind of like what photographs do to a memory, a headstone does to the grieving.