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A road. Such a simple construction seems fairly innocuous. They can trace gentle hypnotic paths, winding through breath-taking vistas or present as jammed tangles of exhaust fumes, short-tempers and noise, slapped against an urban background of concrete and glass. Either setting belies the truth of roads. Utilitarian, convenient, an artifact of human civilization, roads can be a path towards connectedness or one of the most powerful forces of environmental destruction on earth.
For most of Robert Frost’s lifetime (1874-1963), roads had a different connotation. They were metaphors for the trajectory of a life and the choices taken therein. The roads in Frost’s own life, lived largely in the wilds of New England, would have been primarily unpaved, winding country lanes, weaving an innocuous path from village to village, their existence maintained exclusively by use. Once their usefulness became obsolete, they would simply melt back into the landscape.
Travelers would have walked those paths or more expeditiously, traveled on horseback or by carriage. The foot of the man and horse or wheel of the carriage, wedded intimately to the earth beneath it. Cold in snow and ice, burdened in mud and rain, and joyous in fair weather, the journey was as much the story of the road as its destination.
Along with the hurry of Western civilization, came the interstate highway system, commencing in 1956 and completing approximately 35 years later. Roads evolved from the path of preferred travel and experience, winding through and connecting people to landscapes, into entities designed to ferry passengers from point A to point B, transmuting the journey from an experience of connectedness into a mere inconvenience to be abided. To remove the traveler from his surroundings even further, cars became air-tight capsules, air-conditioned and outfitted with radios, CD players and GPS.
Again the modern road is a metaphor for the contemporary human life. From the time he is born, the child of Western civilization is indoctrinated into a world separate from the natural world which sustains him. He lives in a house constructed from largely artificial materials, or if natural, then altered with screed and substance so as to render it into a lifeless resource. His food comes from a grocery store, wrapped and packaged, reduced to a chart of nutritional information rather than a composition of once-living organisms. From the constructed home, in the air-conditioned car, off to industrial buildings for education, the natural world from the beginning is an externality that would seem to have no bearing in the child’s life. He is a human, Homo sapiens, taught that this taxonomy separates him from the world around him. Indeed, the child can grow and even thrive without ever contacting or communing with the natural world surrounding him.
It is no wonder that capitalists, developers, bankers and warriors wander through the world, bent on destruction and without remorse. To them, the living world is an abstraction, separate from and subservient to the artificially crafted world of men. They travel past it all on roads, designed to transfer them from one destination to the next. As they commute from crafted home to crafted place of work, they pride themselves that the work they do, rendering nature into numbers on a balance sheet, is the real work in the world. They are the creators of wealth in their minds, job creators, purveyors of the American Dream. The insignificant and the natural tremble and fall at their hands. The road becomes a mere tool to extract from nature the resources that supply the world of men, a one-way street of destruction.
What is a blade of grass compared to Bill Gates? For all the billions of dollars in revenue, computers manufactured, jobs created, good deeds done, Mr. Gates cannot convert sunshine into food. All he can do is take that food and consume it, degrade it, and release its spent energy as waste into the world until another blade of grass can take that waste and using it, again convert sunlight into food. Who or what then is the greater producer? With each blade of grass mowed down and paved over, never to return, the finite productive capacity of the earth lessens. What will the great men use to fuel their empires when the externalities they have long exploited, neglected and abused have been rendered into meaningless numbers on a page?
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And what for? What is the point of our incessant rushing towards destiny, ignoring all that stands along the distance? We are a culture obsessed with end points, destinations, the weekend, orgasms. What is overlooked is the point of it all. What takes place in-between the end points is journey, making love, life. There is only one finality, one destination at which we must all eventually arrive. Why hurry to get there?