The Road Not Taken

Posted by Sharon Labels: , ,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
~Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken

Sometimes it's impossible to know what will evoke emotion, especially in yourself. It all started with a phone call from my son.

Shayne called from Tisdale, Saskatchewan, where he was on a work assignment. Only a few kilometers from where he grew up and went to school over 30 years ago, he had embarked on a nostalgic journey of Bjorkdale School and the two properties where he had resided with the family. One of those was an acreage we had owned and lived on for 10 years.  

 "Did you take photos?" I asked. He told me did and would send them to me.

 I had not been back to the Crooked River property since 1988. I knew no one was living there and the mobile home was gone. I assumed the yard, barn and fences were in disrepair. I was not sure I wanted to see the old place rundown and empty, but Shayne told me it was "pretty cool" to go back and memories he had long forgotten had surfaced. I waited for the photos, interested and curious but in no way prepared for the jolt they would give me.

 My husband and I bought the Crooked River acreage – bare land – in 1977. We moved there in July with our three children, a few cattle, a bunch of horses and six Samoyed dogs. We had pastures for the stock but quickly built a dog pen and a hip-roofed, two sided shelter for the two stallions. If I remember correctly, one had to stay tied to the trailer for a few nights. Since hydro and water were not yet to the property, we hauled water and cooked on a Coleman stove. Arrangements were made to put in a well, get the hydro in and build a barn. We didn't think there would be any problem getting everything up and running before fall until... an accident in the "rescue race" at Nipawin Fair sidelined my husband with broken ribs and internal surgery. He was on crutches and useless. I said later that we probably got things done faster with him laid up because friends and neighbours pitched in, putting up fences, roofing the barn and helping us in any way they could.

 This was home, mortgage and all, and it was ours.  I did not foresee any changes in the near future. One year later, my husband and I separated.
The separation rocked my world, but, by mutual agreement, I stayed on the property with the children, assumed the mortgage and began life as a single mother. Of course I needed income and so I opened my doors for business – horse training! I took any horse I was asked to and I rode. At least spring to fall I rode; in the winter I raised Samoyed puppies. As well, I stood a stallion and raised some foals. In between the horse work, I got my kids off to school and ran them to various activities, planted, tended, and harvested a large garden and landscaped the yard – with the help of my children. We planted rows of trees and kept them hoed, seeded a big lawn, fenced the lawn with a wagon wheel fence that was my pride and joy, planted shrubs, fruit trees, perennials and lots of annuals. Even now, so many years and several homes later, I believe my Crooked River yard was the nicest of them all.

Fast forward to 1987. Shayne and Cindy had graduated and Lana was starting grade 11 in the fall. My mother and father had both passed away. Other than friends, there was not anything holding me to Saskatchewan and it was becoming increasingly difficult to make a living with only the summer months to ride. I had always loved B.C. and had a friend there. Should I stay with the familiar or embark on a new trail? Another road beckoned. In October 1987, Lana and I moved to Armstrong B.C. with two Samoyeds and six horses.

 Shayne's photos were on my email the next morning. As I looked through them, nostalgia changed to something else. After years of never looking back, I found myself lost in the past. I did love that property and was proud of what I had done with it. Unbidded, the memories flooded back – parties, barbecues, hours riding in the arena, picking bushel baskets of peas, a bouquet of cut flowers… At that moment I wished I had not left, had chosen the other path. Yes, it is run down but good vibes are still there. The mobile home is gone but the porch still stands housing the water tank in the basement beneath it and the sump pump I had to keep running because the water level was so high. So is the tree that shaded the deck (can't remember what kind it was) and the beautiful weeping birch that stood at the corner of the home.
2016 - Only the porch that was attached to the mobile home is here now.
1983 - porch and deck are behind tree at left
Separating the lawn from the vegetable garden was a long lilac hedge. Multiple photos were taken with the hedge as a background! The lilac hedge is still there – untrimmed for many years now but I'm quite sure faithfully blooming every spring.

Lilac hedge in 2016 - Photo above was taken to the extreme right with hedge behind
2016 - Lilac hedge from garden side. Porch is behind hedge.
Lana, Cindy and Shayne June 1982 in front of the lilac hedge.
Shayne's photos show the barn still stands, in poor shape but standing. The granary, shed, hip roofed shelter and round pen are not there but the pens are, with a few minor changes. I used to mow the entire barn area so it always looked neat and tidy.

2016 - The barn as it is now.

1983 - The barn, granary, and hip-roofed horse shelter.

More of Shayne's photos of the barn in 2016.
The front of the barn facing the house. I went in and out of this door with training horses every day.
Side of barn next to trees.
2016 - Back of barn.
My beautiful pens have taken a beating over the years but they're still there.
2016 - view of the pens from the what would have been the deck in front of the house.

1987 - View of pens from the back lawn looking east.
1987 - Shadow in one of the pens.
"Your arena is grown over," Shayne said. I expected that.
2016 - My arena was the other side of power pole (photo looking west).
1983 - Working a horse in the arena (across from the barn)
1983 - The power pole in the 2016 photo is seen here but looking east. Our "beef" is tethered in the background.
And so the Crooked River property is the "road not taken" when I considered two paths in 1987. I live in the present so never thought much about my old home place after I left. But now, almost thirty years later, looking at the photos, I feel more than a little twinge of regret. Maybe I should have stayed on this property... What would my life be like if I had stayed? Would there have been another path to tempt me? And most of all, why do I feel such a draw back now?

For two days I have been thinking about the effect these photos had on me. It's difficult to name the emotion that washed over me as I flipped through them. A friend said, "It's heartbreaking to see all the landscaping gone." Heartbreaking - yes - but they brought back warm feelings too. My children and I lived, loved and worked here. My business started here. Some tough times but so many happy occasions. A peaceful, pretty place to live. And it still is...

2016 - A wide view of the property taken from the road in.

2016 - Shayne standing on the road (now a trail) to the property. Behind him at the corner, he boarded the school bus every school day morning with his siblings. It doesn't take any effort at all for me to 'see' the bus there as I did so many mornings.
It may be a few days until I settle back into the present, a few days until I don't have a overwhelming urge to stand in the yard as Shayne did. But I chose another path long ago and, in the words of Robert Frost: 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 
~Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken