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.

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