“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by… ” — Robert Frost
By Jon Osborn
The best paths aren’t always paved, signed or mapped out; more often, they’re rutted, dusty and poorly marked. But for all their bumps and fissures (perhaps even because of them), the road less-traveled leads to adventure. Poets like Robert Frost knew it, as do contemporary wanderers like us.
backroad” is more of a mindset than a route of travel — a byway for folks who
appreciate experiences above things and relish the journey as much as
the destination. And yet, in a world where productivity is paramount, the act
of wandering has become a dying art.
These days, anyone who isn’t simultaneously taking selfies, texting
friends and scattering photos across social media is viewed as passé, or even
To the trained
wanderer, however, frittering away an afternoon on a hammock or an evening on a
porch swing qualifies as work well-done.
Our bank accounts might be sparse, but we’re wealthy beyond words.
Recently, I did
a bit of windshield wandering in rural Southwest Michigan. After a tough week
at work, my mind was whirring like a sawblade, but an aimless drive offered an
easy remedy. Puttering past the quaint community of Fennville, diners and
coffee shops gave way to orchards and cornfields, and the stress slipped
But the real surprise lay over the next rise, where just west of town, brilliant poppy blossoms dotted the pastoral field at Pleasant Hill Farm. Confronted by such beauty, I stopped the truck and drank in their radiance like a parched nomad at an oasis.
swept me back to another flower-filled meadow from my childhood. Ever the restless
kid, I longed for wilderness, in spite of my suburban upbringing. Pedaling down
the sidewalk one day, I noticed a dusty two-track leading into an open
calling early on, and choosing that path fulfilled a deep desire for a wild
place of my own. While my peers spent
their summers down at the video arcade or movie theater, I caught leopard frogs
along the creek and camped beneath the stars. That field was my own private
hinterland — an intimate place where I knew every bump and burrow pockmarking
the rolling, sandy soil.
familiar friends, cherished places leave an impression unique as any
fingerprint. Recollections unlock a portal to nostalgia and conjure forgotten
memories of a softer time and place. The sagey scent of crushed knapweed and
the idle fiddling of crickets always reminds me of The Field, but above all
else, poppies put the 12-year-old-version of me right back there. Last June,
those dazzling blossoms washed the landscape in a tidal wave of tangerines, lemons,
corals and ruby reds.
As Frost also
noted, “nothing gold can stay.” It was one of those phrases I never fully
understood as a child, but I get it now. Sadly, a condominium complex rests
atop that field. Were it still here today, I’d camp among the poppies with my
kids, whispering tales of how-it-was while meteors streak across the velvet
that field wasn’t the only gem of its kind; places like Pleasant Hill Farm lay
hidden in plain sight all over the Mitten State. To find them, all we need to
do is wander off the beaten path and explore.
See you on the road.