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David Yeadon's USA:
Ode and Owed To America's Backroads

I blame that enticing fragment of a beloved Robert Frost poem for all the damage:

"Two roads diverged . . .and I
— I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference."

I have always had the tendency of taking things a little too literally and Frost's lines finally released my hidden gypsy — a character that had lain dormant for far too long. Ever since I began turning off onto those beautiful 'less traveled' byways of America (long before William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways made it a more palatable pastime) my life has changed beyond measure. Now I shun the pikes at every opportunity, slide Willie's Nelson's "On the Road Again" into the car tape deck, and become an instant backroading wanderer, measuring my way by the sun and sinuous shadow-lines, and letting serendipity and true sensuality suggest the shape and scope of the journey. I'm hooked. It's virtually an addiction. I have problems going anywhere now unless it's by "blue" or even invisible (as far as maps are concerned) highways — dirt tracks, washboards, forest "green-roads' — whatever. The dust streams out behind my car like a diaphanous bridal veil, the air is fresh and crystal, the storms ferocious and splendid, the woods deep and undisturbed, the vales and hollows bathed in sparkling mists, the mountain ridges like eagle aeries, the deserts vast, and enticingly infinite, and the deep shadowy clefts and canyons always full of mysteries and magic . . . .

And magic always happens on these random journeys. Oh my — does it happen! I have enough "backroading magic" tales to keep me in the "earth gypsy" role at dinner parties for the rest of my life. And sketches too. I found the mellow pace of backroading perfectly conducive to pausing awhile, pulling out my somewhat worn and under-used sketchpad and doodling away, trying to capture the essence of some old farmhouse or church or little extravaganza of carpenter-gothic architecture.

Quite frankly, I just can't understand why anyone bothers to drive the major U.S highways at all. I mean — who needs 'em? Traffic congestion, radar traps, highway "improvement" snarls, motel mishmash, junk food arcadia — the only reason to use them is to get somewhere fast. Well — for a start — invariably they're rarely as fast as hoped for and — primary principal of backroading — why try to get "there" quite so fast? What's an extra hour or two every once in a while out of a lifetime of regimented gotta-do-this, should-a'-done-that, affluenza-driven lists and schedules?

As they say in the urban vernacular — chill out. Put in other ways — cut some slack. Ease up. Slow down. Take a chance. Let go. See what happens . . . .

And what happens? That old backroad bewitchment of course. That zany, crazy, serendipitous, wacky, wow-gosh-whoopee wonder where the sudden glimpse of a young deer grazing in a dewy dawn-lit field, or a hawk easing upwards on the spirals, or a farmer resting by a gate overlooking his fields and his world — when moments like these and a hundred others give you pause and peace and bestow little haiku-like memories you'll carry with you for the rest of your life. Little memories that you can conjure up on demand in the hectic hurly-burly, hype-laden day-to-day rush-rush syndromes that many of us have convinced ourselves are the ransoms we must pay to life in order to live the lives we have chosen.

In those all too frequent frantic periods, which plague me as much as anyone else, it's wonderful to be able to switch on a little mind-video and you're back on that track (maybe a track near home, one you'd never taken before) and voilá! presto! — there's that peace again, the ease and succor of deep, previously unseen beauty, the gentle rhythms of secret places, a vision of a vibrant-winged butterfly basking on a rock by a chittering stream, a burst of scarlet berries in a shaft of sunlight against the deep fall colors of a silent wood . . . And then comes that soft, grateful sigh of your own soul saying — thank you, please use me more, touch me more, move me — I'm here for you and that's why you're here — for me. Caress me, nurture me and fill me with beauty and bounty and I'll give you a hundred times more than you expected to get out of life and life's journeys . . . .

And the strange wonder of it all is that — it works. Those simple backroading mood-vignettes, that take so little time to collect out of all your days, will feed and refresh your soul, your spirit, your heart, your mind, like the finest of wines, the most succulent of dishes, the most amorous of partners you've ever enjoyed. They are your moments. You didn't have to buy them, or order them take-out, or get them vicariously through a movie — they are yours because you created them and made them yours. They come to you from within because you sacrificed a little time and opened new windows and in your mind and new perceptions; they come in gratitude from the deepest levels of your own being — and they stay with you . . . .

And all because you took a backroad or two, saw the early sun golden-yoked over a misty, silent valley, watched flowers glow in a salmon-light sunset, stopped to speak with someone you've never met before, exchanged tales over a couple of beers in a backwoods tavern with a bunch of strangers and, who knows, maybe even dragged out your own sketchpad or camera and captured the essence of something beautiful and lasting along these quiet byways.

It all takes so little. You don't even have to go far from home; America is still primarily a "backroads country." Pull a map out; you might be surprised how many backroad options you could enjoy within a few miles of where you live. You're surrounded by secret places and hidden nooks. And you certainly don't need exotic vacations or adventure odysseys or exorbitant spas or extravagant resorts to help you relax, mellow-out, and rediscover yourselves. They're already there. You carry your own resort, vacation, adventures, monastic retreat, spa, and your own crash-course in chilling-out within you. It just needs the occasional sojourn off the superfast highways of life, an hour or two of randoming, of pursuing and playing with some of your less familiar selves, of releasing a little of the lives awaiting within — of taking, whenever you can, those "roads less traveled . . . ."

Believe me — your selves will thank you and reward you in ways you never dreamed of, again and again and again . . . .

And if one last quotation will help tip the scales and send you in search of new and far more personal inner and outer adventures, may I present John Donne: "To live in one place is captivitie To runne all lands — a wild roguerie."

So be a rogue! And may you enjoy all your journeys . . . .

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