The road not taken
Sometimes, we find ourselves on a different path to those around us. We feel like we’re ‘out on a limb’, searching for meaning, familiarity or a sense of direction. And sometimes, this lack of connection to anything we have ever known or experienced can be overwhelming. I was recently on a road trip through country New South Wales, Australia and the scorching temperatures and vast distances between settlements made me slightly anxious. My phone had run out of juice, our scrawled instructions were null and void, since we’d taken a different route and the battered map was confusing.
Hoping to get to our hotel by midnight, we’d taken the route to Coolah rather than Coonabarabran, yet another deviation from our intended path. The road was bumpy and the sun a glowing orb, which was soon replaced by a milky, inquisitive moon. During this liminal period, we saw two lights in the sky with glowing tails. They were hurtling diagonally through the atmosphere and seemed to be on a never-ending trajectory towards who-knows-where. Were they meteorites or fighter jets? I had no idea but was captivated by their simple, elegant lines.
Eventually, we arrived in Dunedoo, a small town between Dubbo and Gunnedah. The local pub was like something out of a movie set with its imposing façade and white latticework. As we made our way through the narrow entrance, we were greeted with singsong video games and Formica tables, set high off the ground. The local kids were running amok and some were having their photo taken in a cardboard cut-out labelled ‘Australia’s most wanted Hotel Dunedoo.’
Our meals were massive, but since they were designed for the men who feed the nation, we didn’t complain. Farmers in Akubra hats and dust stained shirts loped in and out, stopping to chat with friends and acquaintances. Others ordered take-away, but the bulk of them coalesced in the bar, their happiness and camaraderie radiating like the heat off a tarmac road at midday. Squirting some tomato-sauce onto my T-bone steak, I wondered whether the pool tables, standing lonely and sombre, ever got used.
We arrived in Orange in the middle of the night and punched in a code to the outdoor safe to obtain our keys. A few sips of instant coffee and the soothing cadence of my audiobook lulled me off to sleep until it was broken by the rev of an engine the next morning. Leaving the hotel at the last available moment, I threw myself in the car and hurriedly brushed my hair. We visited a friend in a nursing home just out of town and were invited to participate in ‘Songs of praise’ with the residents. Raising our voices to the well-known tunes, I felt a sense of peace washing over me.
The piano-playing nun provided an impromptu talk which had a refreshing feminist angle and a saxophonist gave us a preview of his afternoon concert since we had to leave before it began. The velvety sound of Nat King Cole stole through my cells and I breathed in a deep, cleansing breath. As I closed my eyes, my mind turned to the lights in the sky outside Dunedoo. I got an idea for a story I’m writing and found myself walking in one of my character’s shoes. The peace sank deeper, like mist in a valley and suddenly, I realised that sometimes, as in Robert Frost’s iconic poem, the road ‘…less travelled by…’ is just the one you need.