two ways out of the woods

For the last several hours I have been following a narrow path through an old growth stand of cedar and maple.

For the last several hours I have been following a narrow path through an old growth stand of cedar and maple.

Early morning light filters down through the tight canopy, bounces off the morning mist and settles onto a dense under-story of wide ferns.

Dead and decaying leaves arouse my senses.

There is a purity of season here and it completely surrounds me.

In a moment the trail splits and I am caught offguard.

The ease with which I have been moving through the forest hardens and I come to a complete stop.

Now there are two ways to move forward.

I stare down each path; each looks inviting. While one certainly shows more wear than the other, both seem to have had their fair share of use.

I am undecided on which one to take.

Just where the trail separates there is a fallen cedar that offers me, good view down each one.

I sit for a moment and listen to the sound of mist raining down on tall oak ferns and giant horsetail.

The mist is heavy at times and it leaves the entire forest to do what it does best: soak up moisture.

I wipe off the log as best I can and pour myself a cup of blackberry tea.

Like an artist looking for some kind of inner guidance I squeeze my eyes into narrow slits and peer hard down each trail.

No insight comes. I pour more tea and watch its white steam rise into sunlight.

I feel the dampness from the cedar log ooze through my wool pants and I instinctively turn up the collar on my canvas shirt. 

Clasping my hands behind my ears I try to bring in additional sound, but this place is dead quiet.

In a moment, though, Robert Frost pops to mind and I hear his words.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I.

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

So here I sit, in a quiet forest, bathed in young sunlight, clearly at a crossroads. A junction of sorts, I suppose. And as the cool damp of the morning takes hold, I, just like Robert Frost, stare down two roads. Frost stared down one road and took the other. The one “less traveled”. In this poem he goes on to tell us that one day he will return and take the other road, see where it leads. But, he confesses, chances of him doing so are remote.

“Oh I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.”

He is right, of course. How true it is that “way leads on to way”. Life just rolls on.

Once we take the path, any path, we seem to be destined to ride it to the bitter end.

Seldom do we pull up, sit back, take stock and change gears.

However, on a summer’s day, June 29, 1895, thousands of “uneducated” Russian peasants did take stock.

They gathered on a high plateau in the Wet Mountains near the village of Orlovka, in Transcaucasia for a real change of gears.

They colleted every muzzle-loading rifle, saber, dagger and handgun they owned, loaded them into wagons and drove into the mountains.

In bright sunlight, they poured kerosene on sun-dried manure bricks, stacked the weapons up neatly on top and set the whole mess on fire.

Never again would any Russian Doukhobor possess a weapon, never again would they commit any act of violence.

They were forever done with that part of Russian culture that conscripted them in to military service.

“The road less traveled.”

These simple farmers sent all hate and violence right up in smoke.

When the smoke finally cleared all that remained for these people were their solid faith and their sustainable farms.

Over the course of the next 100 years these peasants were forced to flee the oppression of autocratic Romanov rulers; many immigrated here to the thick-top-soiled prairies of southern Saskatchewan and the fertile river valleys of eastern British Columbia.

These people are Canada’s pacifist treasure.

Their commitment to small-scale farming, vegetarianism, craftsmanship, simplicity, community mindfulness and non-violence is one we should pay attention to.

As Canada struggles to overcome the effects of global warming and war — while continuing to promulgate both — the Doukhobors now living in Castlegar, Grand Forks, Krestova, and Nelson, BC, go about the enduring business of faith and farming.

Doukhobors were well down the road to non-violence when Mahatma Gandhi was still struggling to get through law school, some 50 years before Martin Luther King was even born they even beat out Mother Theresa’s noble work by a decade or two.

By the time the Doukhobors immigrated to Canada they had mastered the high art of sustainable farming and had fully integrated it into their culture.

For them farming and non-violence grew from the same soil.

Still sitting on this cedar log I finish my last cup of tea.

Symbolically, for now at least, I must choose one path over the other.

With the stream of sunlight at my back I stand and stretch my legs. I will see just how far I can travel down the road to non-violence.

In a moment I turn and look back at the old cedar log. Another traveller has just arrived at the same juncture.

There is a part of me that wants to wait and see if she sits on the old cedar log. But I have chosen my path and I am anxious to get on.

Gregory Heming is a writer and optimist living in Nelson, British Columbia.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: Another election, another anomaly

Monday’s “double-tie” election is generating some free publicity for the Yukon as Outside news agencies scramble to find someone to interview.

A cyclist rides along the Millenium Trail in downtown Whitehorse on a frigid Feb. 9. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of an e-bike bylaw that would designate how e-bike riders can use city trails. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
First two readings passed on Whitehorse e-bike bylaw

Delegate calls on city to consider age restrictions and further regulations

Whitehorse City Hall at its Steele Street entrance. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Change of plans approved for city hall

Project would see 1966 city hall demolished

A city map shows the property at 107 Range Road. The zoning is now in place for developers to proceed with plans for a Dairy Queen drive-thru. If plans proceed on schedule the new restaurant is anticipated to open in October. (Cyrstal Schick/Yukon News)
October opening eyed for Dairy Queen

Will depend on everything going according to plan

Joel Krahn/ Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

A bulldozer levels piles of garbage at the Whitehorse landfill in January 2012. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Rural dump closures and tipping fees raise concern from small communities

The government has said the measures are a cost-cutting necessity

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: Hands of Hope, the quilt of poppies

Toilets are important Ed. note: Hands of Hope is a Whitehorse-based non-profit… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at city council matters for the week of April 12

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

Most Read