Off to college with Robert Frost

When I took my son off to his freshman year of college back in September, the bittersweet experience was tempered in a powerful way.

As Alyosha and I drove through the picture-postcard villages and the mountains of central New Hampshire, we spoke of the academic road ahead and his aspirations for success at Plymouth State University.

But in quiet moments, when nothing was being said, my eyes rested on the landscape, which became more intimate, quaint, and picturesque the closer we drew to Plymouth. Finally I was moved to utter, "Alyosha, can there be any doubt that this is Robert Frost country?"

My son didn't make the same intensity of connection as I, but I was grateful for small wonders - that he at least knew who Frost was.

As we drove along, every turn of the winding road offered a new vista, like a drive-through series of scenes that Frost himself must have observed time and again, but with a far more perceptive and interpretive eye than mine.

There to our right was a long, gray wall, tumbledown now, that had been set by hand , generations ago ("Something there is that doesn't love a wall...").

A little farther down the road, a stand of birches, stark white against their neighboring maples ("When I see birches bend to left and right/ Across the lines of straighter darker trees..."). The first leaves, presaging autumn, had already begun to litter the forest floor ("I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired...").

The show didn't stop even when we reached our destination and saw Alyosha's college upon a rise, with the village of Plymouth splayed out along its apron, the oasis of school and town ringed by hills and made pastoral by the lazy flow of a modest river. ("It's restful to arrive at a decision,/ And restful just to think about New Hampshire.")

It was abundantly clear where Frost's poetry had come from. He had had at his disposal a bottomless pit of inspiration. "You're in a good place," I told my son.

"Because of Frost?" he asked, throwing me a mischievous look.

"Well, yeah," I said. "I think his spirit has something to do with it."

These reflections were promptly displaced as we descended into the chaos of moving Alyosha into his dorm. A horde of students and well-meaning parents stumbled up and down the stairs, their arms brimming with boxes, furniture, computers, clothing, and other appurtenances of the home-to-college migration.

"What would Frost have said about this?" I said with a grunt as I tried to squeeze by with one of Alyosha's bags.

Heeding the advice of parents who had gone before me, I made my goodbye short and sweet. "Make the most of this opportunity," I told Alyosha as I hugged him. "And stay in touch."

After leaving the dorm, I decided to walk about the campus to clear my head and prepare myself for the solitary drive home. Architecturally, the school might have been almost any other small, rural college, with its juxtaposition of modern and historic buildings. I finally came to a neat, white clapboard-frame house that looked as if it had been meticulously maintained on principle. And then, when I read the plaque in front of it, I realized that I was exactly right. It read, "Robert Frost House."

Yes, now it came back to me. I had forgotten that Frost had taught at Plymouth - when it was the Plymouth Normal School - back in 1911.

I turned around and saw a bronze statue of a young Robert Frost sitting upon a granite bench, writing on a pad. I sat down next to him and gazed at his work: Ah, "The Road Not Taken."

As I looked at the busy shuffle of students, I wondered how many of them knew whose statue this was (or, for that matter, wondered about the strange man who was sitting next to the statue).

I nestled closer to Frost with my hands clasped in front of my knees. As I looked up at the poet, I noticed that the corners of his eyes were oxidizing. Two streaks of green had run down over his cheeks.

Not caring what the world around me might think, I did what had to be done: I wiped Frost's tears away with my thumbs. "There," I said as I examined my work. Then I looked up and caught two young women staring at me. "Someone needs to take care of this man," I said as I smiled at them.

I got into my car for the return trip, immediately feeling the vacancy in the passenger seat. As I nosed my vehicle across the river, the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating a minor side road. It seemed to run east (my general direction). What else could I do? I turned onto this unknown road that disappeared into the woods and allowed it to lead me.

I think Frost would have approved of a father and a son reaching out, with hope, for unfamiliar paths.

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