September 2006


In case you’ve ever wondered why I carry my purse-sized digicam everywhere I go, here’s why. On an otherwise ordinary Saturday, on the way home from walking the dog and filling up the car, you never know when you’ll get stuck in traffic alongside the local high school‘s Homecoming parade.

During my own high school career in Ohio, I attended exactly one football game and one Homecoming parade. It wasn’t that I didn’t have school spirit: I’d wear my school colors to daytime pep rallies as enthusiastically as the next goody-two-shoes Honors Student. But my high school in Columbus was home to enough gang members to make attending after-school activities a risky proposition, so I typically stayed home. The only time I went to a Homecoming parade was during my senior year when I was in the parade, not as Homecoming Queen, but as a National Merit Scholar: my Alma Mater’s attempt to show the neighbors that not everyone at my school was a gangsta hoodlum.

During a week when American high schools have been in the news–first for an ill-fated hostage-taking and next for the murder of a Wisconsin principal–it’s heartening to think that in Small Town, New Hampshire, the most pressing thing on some students’ minds is what to wear to the Homecoming dance, who to dance with, and how to get that weekend homework done in the meantime. When I was in high school, I never quite understood adults’ insistence that high school represented the best four years of your life: if an era of acne, ugly-duckling awkwardness, and confused uncertainty over one’s future represented the best that life had to offer, I’d just as soon stay home in my room, thank you.

In retrospect, I think those adults viewed my angst-ridden high school existence through the lens of nostalgia. Compared to the nine-to-five monotony of adult life, maybe even acne and heartbreak look better in comparison. When you’re in high school, the world is your oyster: contemplating college, the job market, or the thought of settling down and starting a family, you’re at the idealistic start of Life’s Adventure. Once you’ve taken a bite out of the world’s apple, though, you’ve learned that opportunity is a finite thing: having chosen to do X, you can’t simultaneously pursue Y, and instead of contemplating the world with an attitude of “Anything is possible,” you’ve begun to look at life from the perspective of “What might have happened, if…”

These fresh-faced Keene High School students, some of whom I’ll face as first-year college students next fall, have surely read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Most folks read Frost’s vision of an autumnal walk through a New England woods as being the retrospective of a satisfied soul:

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

Most fresh-faced students and the respectable adults they’ll grow into read these lines optimistically: surely Frost’s speaker is looking back upon his life with a sense of gratitude, thankful for choices well-made. But knowing the darkness that often lurks between Frost’s lovely lines, I’m not so sure. If Frost’s speaker is convinced he made the right choice between those two roads diverging in a yellow wood, why does Frost title his poem “The Road Not Taken”?

Heaven forbid I should rain or even cast a cloud on a sunny Saturday’s parade, but I think we mis-read Frost (and mis-lead idealistic youth) if we overlook the way that any choice necessarily involves loss and even regret. Contemplating two equally alluring roads in an autumnal woods, Frost’s speaker knows better than anyone that he can’t “travel both / And be one traveler.” Having chosen his road in life, Frost’s speaker looks back not only with gratitude but also with more than a touch of melancholic wondering. Where would I be now–who would I be now–if I’d taken that other path?

It’s natural to occasionally contemplate the roads not taken, and this is why, I think, adults remember their high school days with nostalgia. What would my life have been like, I wonder, had I gone to more Ohio football games and spent less time huddled alone in my room with books and notebooks? Who might I be today had I been Homecoming Queen rather than a National Merit Scholar named “Most Likely to Succeed”? Although I personally like to think that right now is the beginning of the best four years of my life, I can understand why some folks, laden with grown-up cares and longing for the days before limitless possibility had been narrowed by necessary choices, view high school as a Golden Age when retrospect hadn’t yet become synonymous with regret.

Repaired stone bridge

Remember the old stone bridge that was damaged in last year’s flood and subsequently covered with a protective tarp? Well, Old Stone’s in the process of receiving a face-lift, and here’s how she looks these days: almost as good as old.

Repaired

In August, crews erected a wood scaffold under the crumbling portion of the double-arch stone bridge off Route 9 near the Antrim border in Stoddard, New Hampshire. With the help of this scaffold and piles of reinforcing gravel, workers have successfully re-pieced the largest of the tumbled stones, re-assembling a centuries-old structure whose only modern use is as a backdrop for scenic pictures.

Repaired

It’s nice to think that some of our tax dollars here in tax-free New Hampshire are lending a hand to a fallen friend. With Old Stone standing securely again, the only thing keeping this scene from its pre-flood glory are the piles of gravel re-routing the Contoocook River around the damage. I’d like to think that by the time our fall foliage reaches its peak brilliance around mid-October, Old Stone and the river that runs through her will be in picture-perfect shape for the annual invasion of Leaf Peepers.

Ocean Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine

Apparently you can’t teach an old photo-blogger new tricks, or maybe my taste in imagery hasn’t changed at all over the past two years. How else would you explain why yesterday I snapped a nearly identical photo of the same pile of rocks I’d blogged the last time I was in Bar Harbor two years ago?

Ocean Trail, Acadia National Park

Although I didn’t set pencil to sketchbook this weekend, I’m glad someone took advantage of today’s picture-perfect day to Get Artistic in Acadia National Park. True to pattern, it was a sunny, mild, perfectly beautiful day in Bar Harbor today…right as I was leaving. Of the two full days I spent in Maine, Saturday was rainy and Sunday foggy, so it was a challenging weekend photography-wise. But never one to be daunted by mere weather, I hiked nevertheless…I just don’t have many decent photos to show for it.

This morning, before hitting the road to head back to New Hampshire, I took advantage of the Finally Perfect weather to walk the Ocean Trail from Sand Beach to Otter Point and back. The last time I walked the Ocean Trail, it was raining, I snapped photos from under an umbrella, and I had the trail almost entirely to myself. Today I didn’t need an umbrella, and the path was thronged with families, busloads of tourists, dogwalkers, and hikers of all shapes, sizes, and ages.

Of the photos I took today, this one is probably my favorite, capturing as it does an anonymous hiker watching a trio of sea kayakers. Does this picture say “picture perfect day” or what?

Anyone in the mood to go shopping? Today’s Photo Friday theme is Girl, so here’s an image from last month’s trip to Dublin, where a store display in Saint Stephen’s Green Shopping Center caught my photographic eye. Here in the States, I occasionally go shopping for bargains at T.J. Maxx…but if I lived in Dublin, I’d have to patronize Mr. Maxx’s Irish brother, T.K. Whatever the store is called, who can resist the ever-watchful eye of a camera-wielding glamor girl?

What’s that girl looking at? Well, here’s a shot of the inside of Saint Stephen’s Green Shopping Center…

Is it me, or does this open and ornate architecture call to mind the panoptical splendor of Kilmainhaim Gaol? Whereas Kilmainhaim’s Victorian hall allowed prison guards to monitor inmates with an ever-watchful eye, a well-designed shopping mall encourages consumers to see, desire, and ultimately possess an ever-alluring array of goods. How many times have you gone “window shopping” and ended up buying something you didn’t know you needed until you saw it?

As for me, this girl’s going hiking. I’m off this morning for a long weekend in Bar Harbor, Maine, where I plan to spend as much time outside (and as little time blogging) as a potentially rainy weekend will allow. If it rains, I guess I’ll have to go window-shopping. What’s more quintessentially girly than some weather-induced retail therapy?

Although the autumn equinox doesn’t happen until Saturday, it already feels like fall. In addition to piles of pumpkins and rows of chrysanthemums, the Virginia creeper is ripening, its leaves turning red while its berries turn blue.

Compared with last year, this year’s crop of creeper seems to be turning ahead of schedule. We’ve already had our first frost with another forecast for Friday; it seems in keeping with September’s equinoctial temperament that an overnight freeze is enough to set our fences on fire.

Airport Road, Swanzey, NH

Although the hillsides themselves haven’t started to turn, some of the shorter, scrubbier trees that fringe them have. On Saturday’s walk down Airport Road in Swanzey, NH, I noticed one field dotted with reddening saplings while the next was still entirely green. The leaves of Virginia creeper are red and their berries blue, and goldenrod is lending a splash of color: a fitting overture to the symphony of color that will surge and crescendo over the coming weeks.

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