The Trail In

Robert Frost wrote that when he came to a fork in the road he took the road less travelled and that made all the difference, and, alas, so many have followed. Would it be a Yogi Berra-ism to say no one goes there anymore now that the road less traveled has become so popular? I know if a road is built many will drive that road wanting to know.

There are situations where taking the road less traveled is still useful. 

I usually do drive the roads less travelled—rough gravel, washboarded, narrow—always watching out for rocks, broken culverts, but not as far as high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles might (though many who own new $50,000 pickup trucks do hesitate to go where mud would dirty or brush would scratch their shiny off road investments). I stop. Park. And walk. I take the trail in. Follow along a stream. Or push through brush using the sun, a compass, or the sound of the stream to guide me. Robert Frost was right in taking the road less travelled, he just didn’t go far enough. That, of course, may be the complaint of modern poetry, it doesn’t go far enough. Today even the roads less travelled are travelled too much by four wheel drives, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, fat-tire bicycles. I know a grouse hunter who drives 100 miles of trail each weekend of the season, and claims he shoots his limit each day. Grouse come to the edges of the roads, especially in the fall to gravel their craws. So grouse hunting in Minnesota now is mostly driving. While deer hunting is driving to the stand, then standing all day with a scoped rifle, waiting.

The end of the road for me is the way in.

I might add that there are fishermen who road fish. They fish the deep holes below the culverts under the roads, though often less traveled travelled, thinking most fishermen will avoid the culvert hole as being too obvious, too well travelled. The road fishermen will fish the hole and then drive to the next culvert hole, fishing several good holes in a day. Some do well. I, however, prefer to go beyond, where the trail fades to no trail, beyond where others walk. If there is a trail, others will follow, thinking if there is a trail it will lead to better fishing. So they go. For me the trail in is no trail.

Some trails are hidden.

I once found a trail off a gravel road, but not connected, it just stopped being a trail for the last 100 yards to the road. I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t set off through the brush. The trail, I did have to admit, was easier walking, and since it didn’t connect, might lead to the stream I was seeking. Then it just ended, didn’t go all the way. Yet I was close enough to hear the river in the direction I knew was west, now toward the sun, where I expected the river to be. I aimed my way around windfalls, corrected my course, and eventually found the river.  

Even though this was a hidden trail, I fished the river that afternoon and two other mornings without success. Maybe I was there at the wrong time of year. Or I had to walk farther up or down the river. I was sure there was another piece to this puzzle. Walking back from the sound of the river, I had a difficult time finding the quiet end of the trail, but once I did, I enjoyed an easy walk back to the beginning and the short push through the brush.  

Or maybe it wasn’t a trail in, into a fishing spot.

In the art world Robert Rauschenburg once painted over a de Kooning. Is the de Kooning then still a de Kooning?

And Bansky sold his painting “Girl With Balloon” at auction by Southby’s for $1,300,000 and set off an invisible shredder once the sale was finalized. Not unlike catch and release. Though the shredder stopped half-way through the painting. Was this a trick or further message to the world that what we do may or may not be so serious, so don’t follow.

Maybe I’m getting too far off course. This can happen fast in the brush. And you are lost. This is why some cut trails or even blaze the way in. Of course there must be a reason to go into a hidden place. A good brook trout hole can easily be fished out. Sometimes the hole will come back, sometimes it won’t.

Just like a writer needs to read his craft, a good trout fisherman needs to know his area. He needs to have fished the length of his stream, all of his streams. He needs to know the holes. He needs to know places, as well as roads, trails. He needs to know his own.

This knowledge should provide him with the information to know where and when to fish. Should someone say he caught a large brook trout behind the campground, he should know if that could be a good spot or not. Probably not, but.

As a fisherman, as a keeper of my area, I need to know.

So I go.


Jim Johnson lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Isabella, Minnesota. He has published nine books of most recently Text For Our Nomadic Future (Red Dragonfly Press, 2018).