And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.”
Strolling through the fallen leaves of sweet gums and silver maples, it is easy to imagine the “yellow wood” that inspired Robert Frost to pen The Road Not Taken…or Henry David Thoreau’s retreat to Walden Pond…or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s appeal that, “If we reunite spirit with nature, we will see the miraculous in common things.” There is something innately reflective about the season of Fall that brings out the poet in all of us, and invitingly connects us to a heightened sense of self-awareness. A bittersweet air of change accompanies the cool of the morning, and the passing theme of time is captured in the slow descent of every tumbling, umber leaf. Be it poem, prose, or just simply being prescient, impeccable storytellers like Frost, Thoreau, and Emerson knew the crux of how to connect with it: they had to get lost within themselves. And the best place to do that was off the beaten path…alone…out in the woods…“To live deep, to suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life, and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”
For these literary giants, forsaking the familiar in the pursuit of pentameter was a risk worth taking. In our world today, we would call it a “no brainer”. The value of what was to be gained outweighed whatever might be lost by remaining in the clutch of the ordinary. In Quiet (GoodRead’s best non-fiction book of 2012) Susan Cain describes the inner plight of the poet in us all, In A World That Can’t Stop Talking: “Solitude matters, and for some people it’s the air they breathe….they love music, nature, art, and physical beauty.”
Unfortunately, the modern world in which we trudge our everyday lives can tend to make these noble ventures oddly inaccessible. Of all literature, poetry, as with the arts in general, is often cast by the wayside of the beaten path, and quickly dismissed as “non-strategic” in the black-trodden budgets of powers that be. How ironic it becomes then, that executive retreats delve not into further excursion of the practical, the measurable, and the manageable, but are instead aimed at immersion into the artful, the beautiful, and the inspirational to regain perspective; in essence, recharging the human battery with the humanities we fail to foster. The elusive value of such endeavors may escape the prudence of the down-to-earth, but not the passion of their inner child: Travel Effect surveys reveal that of all childhood memories, the ones that resonate the furthest into adulthood are those of family vacations. After all, no one plans a vacation to visit their neighbors’ industrial parks; it is the family frolics to state and national parks that become stepping stones toward significance. If you are looking to vacation in a spot that highlights the foliage of the Fall while emoting the serenity of seclusion, there can be no place better than East Alabama’s Cheaha State Park.
As Emerson was writing Nature in 1836, and Thoreau was embarking on a two-year Walden pause in 1845, the communities of rural Eastern Alabama were in their infancy, meandering from settlements into villages and towns. And through all of history, the mountains, lakes, and colors of the Fall that bemused our greatest poets were silent witnesses not only to them, but to those that were yet to be, in centuries yet to come. As the highest point in the state of Alabama, Mt. Cheaha is aptly the crown jewel of modern-day Cleburne County, and perhaps no single stone in that crown is so precious as the pathway walk to its pinnacle…Bald Rock. Within its perimeter of 500 yards, the November environment becomes an autumnal utopia where the treasures of the Fall are gathered to behold. Via elevated bridge or surefooted trail, the surreal world beneath the treetops takes on a serene animation of its own. Amid the shelter of the shade, age-old boulders breach the surface and punctuate the path, as a canopy of color guides the way forward. From fallen oaks to rocky perches, there are countless nooks and lures in this place that pine for your attention, as each turn of the head offers a new wonder beckoning to be explored. (You might even say, “that as way has a way of leading on to way, it is easy to lose your sense of place…or keep in step with drummers’ pace.”) The eventual end of this enchanted forest culminates with a breathtaking view from the mountain’s edge, with towers of granite rising on its sides. Truly, a destination such as this is what one would hope to find at the end of Frost’s yellow wood.
Additionally, Cheaha State Park boasts several other attractions for would-be memory-makers, with its Indian Relic museum, Pinhoti Trail, Camping Grounds, and rock-clad swimming pool atop the mountain. Park accommodations are also plentiful with a full service hotel, restaurant, cabins, chalets, and lodge for conferences. Derived from the Creek Indian word for “High Place”, Cheaha encompasses more than just the park, and is frequently cited as the unifying theme of surrounding locales. With Cheaha being nestled within the Talladega National Forest, Talladega County itself boasts one of the state’s most scenic drives along Highway 21, between the cities of Talladega and Oxford.
According to the park’s website, the Clay County route via Hwy 49 offers the most resistance to change in color fluctuation, while the Talladega route via Hwy 21 offers the most color canopy. Bear in mind that no matter which road you choose to travel, the Fall Colors will not last forever, so the time to immerse yourself within them is now:
“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.”
To hear an AUDIO CLIP of “The Road Not Taken” recited by Robert Frost, click: Robert Frost reciting The Road Not Taken
(Views expressed are that of the author Vaughn Samuels, and not of any employer.)