Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

A man and his horse trudge along a country lane. It is early evening, but the sun has gone down and the light of the moon is covered by a thick blanket of clouds. The snow falls steadily, all-but-silently covering first the ground and then itself and then itself again.

The lane dips to meet a frozen lake, and the man and his horse pause to collect themselves before tackling the climb back up. What looked like a hill in the warm sunshine looms ahead like a craggy peak.

The man looks around. "Whose woods these are, I think I know," he mumbles to himself, thinking he might find a warm bed or at least a cup of coffee. But he shakes his head. "His house is in the village though."  There is no one around for miles. "He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow."

The man's mind wanders while he puts off climbing the hill, and he thinks about his horse. "My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near." Queer indeed. No farmhouse. "Between the woods and frozen lake. The darkest evening of the year." The man closes his eyes and opens them slowly. What a place to stop.

The horse, as if to show that horses know what cold means, "gives his bells a little shake to ask if there is some mistake."

But the man, too cold and too tired to focus on anything for long, doesn't respond. His mind has already wandered on to the loneliness and silence of this particular stretch of highway. "The only other sound's the sweep of easy wind and downy flake."

The near silence. The darkness. The cold. He wants to lie down and sleep. The woods might offer some shelter. They don't look intimidating or scary. In fact, they "are lovely, dark and deep."

"But," he remembers, "I have promises to keep." He turns his face forward. "And miles to go before I sleep."

He puts one foot in front of the other and his horse follows. The words echo in his exhausted mind. He tries to push sleep a little further away. "And miles to go before I sleep."


My wife and I are in the middle--well, the middle of the beginning--of a long, long journey. We finished one long journey a few years ago and promptly started another. Some days feel like the darkest evening of the year, and I wallow in the kind of self-pity that says, "It's so dark! And it's not even 9 o'clock yet!"

But somehow, and I don't understand this, somehow there is comfort in the idea that others have gone through these types of journeys before. I don't know whether Robert Frost finished his, but maybe that's the point.

Maybe journeys aren't about getting where you're going; maybe they're about being where you are.

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