Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Roads Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

You are probably familiar with these lines from the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. These are the closing three lines from the poem’s fourth and final stanza. They are often used in an inspirational context – encouraging individualism, self-reliance, non-conformity, to consider not following where others have led.

However, closer reading of this poem, which Frost himself described as ‘tricky’, shows that the narrator is not at all moralising about choice. He is saying that choice is inevitable but that the outcome of choices we make cannot be known until we have lived out those choices. Consider the two lines which precede the quotation above:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

The narrator is surmising that he will look back at some point in the future and consider the choice he has made, with a sigh. What we are not told, however, is whether that ‘sigh’ is one of relief or regret. Whichever it is will then have an impact on the meaning of ‘difference’. A sigh of relief would suggest that the difference is a positive one; a sigh of regret would mean a negative difference.

It is a short yet very powerful poem. If you are not familiar with it I encourage you to read it. You’ll find it easily through Google. It is not my intention to elucidate my personal analysis of it in this blog post. Rather, I want to talk about why this oft-quoted extract, in its literal sense, has become apposite for me in my photographic pursuits during the past year.

You see, when out in the car in search of photo opportunities, I often find myself choosing to turn off the main roads and onto the byways and boreens, looking for that something a little bit different to capture with the camera. We live in a country of unparalleled natural beauty. Places such as Connemara, the Ring of Kerry, the Burren, Giant’s Causeway, (insert your own favourite well-known beauty spot here). All are world-renowned and synonymous with the beauty of our island. But there’s more - a lot more.

What if I mention Cloon Lough or Ballaghbeama Gap in Co. Kerry? I recently discovered these places of exquisite beauty quite simply by seeing a turn off the main road and wondering what would be down there. I could also say the same about Shronahiree Beg (where the photo above was taken), Ballinafunshoge and Carrowaystick Brook. Then there’s the Black Valley in Kerry and the Gortnaskeagh area on the road between Kilgarvan in Kerry and Ballylickey in west Cork. I could go on.

Some of these side-tracks are not for the faint-hearted, however. I remember several months ago having to make a rather inelegant 3-point turn on a raised dirt-track in Connemara which turned out to be a dead-end without even the reward of a decent photo opportunity. Many of them, however, have amazing hidden gems awaiting you to discover them. And it’s all perfectly safe really, once you are prepared to ride the ditch as there is often insufficient room for two cars to pass each other.

But don’t let these small matters deter you. There are plenty of advantages to these smaller roads. The absence of tour buses is one. In fact, the absence of much traffic of any description. If you drive the Ballaghbeama Gap across the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks in Kerry, I recommend you to stop at the top, switch off the engine and step out of the car (or dismount your bicycle, if that is your preferred mode of transport). Simply listen to the silence which may occasionally be disturbed only by the distant ‘baa’ of a sheep on the mountainside. A piece of heaven.

So the next time you are out for a leisurely drive in the country, look for where the road diverges and take that lesser travelled route. It will usually be marked by a strip of grass growing in the middle of it. You may well be pleasantly surprised by the beauty that awaits you.

(Click on the photo above to view larger)

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