A road is normally a means of getting somewhere; we pass down it as we move from one place to another. It may have a certain charm or nobility in itself, but its very nature, its chief function, is to serve as a route of passage. "To travel hopefully," Robert Louis Stevenson said in an often misquoted passage, "is a better thing than to arrive." That may be a philosophy suitable for the young and the wayward, but for most of us the arrival is what counts, and the departure -- for myself at any rate -- has a vivid poignancy that no amount of traveling can match.
Roads, however, can play tricks on us. Sometimes they destroy the very places they are supposed to connect. A road too wide, inviting too large and speedy a traffic, can overwhelm the locality it has been created to serve. At one end it drains away life. At the other end it brings in hordes of restless and unobserving folk. It may be a sylvan park or mountaintop, as it may be a cluster of old houses with their quiet lawns and gardens: the nature of the place is at first subtly altered by the public invasion, and then it is irretrievably destroyed. The genius of the locality hides or flees, and before we know it, the place that should be enshrined and guarded has become merely a short stretch of road, undifferentiated, scarcely glimpsed -- and certainly not felt or appreciated -- as we rush through.
Again, in strange ways, roads can become places in themselves. This happens in a grotesque form where shops and parking lots, used-car lots and gas stations , grow up in what is sometimes obscenely referred to as a "miracle mile." In such a case the road has become, as it were, an open wound in the side of the community. The precious lifeblood pours out, to coagulate in hideous parodies of community existence. In quite a different way roads can become places in themselves when they are so charmingly contrived and are so continuously edged by vistas that we travel down them as we would through a spacious garden.
One such road exists upon the Maine island where I write. On the surface it seems commonplace enough, for it is but a portion of a continuing highway, to which the trans, portation people of the state give the number "3." But not long since it was known to visitors and islanders as Peabody Drive, a fine name giving it a personality of its own and recalling one of the neighborhood's old worthies. Start down this three-mile stretch of road and you will pass such natural and man-made attractions as startle the imagination.
Here are repeated glimpses of the encircling sea: at one point we look down into a harbor crowded with small boats; at another, come upon a beach which in its scale and intimacy recalls scenes dear to painters of the Impressionist school. In between, the road rises to a view of the offshore islnds, or dips to a small cove where the fresh water of a mountain brook mingles with the salt water of the sea. At still another point the rocks have been piled high by tides and winds to form a natural sea wall, while across the road opens a pond of considerable size, inviting one to pause and to explore its shores on foot.
In addition to such natural qualities, this stretch of road passes some pleasant works of man. Three public gardens border upon it. Two small churches , grayed by the years and half-hidden in the woods, grace it. One of those old inns with towers and verandas that once were the common possession of summer resorts survives to make a crook in the road and, with its surrounding cottages and dependencies, seems a small village in itself. Elsewhere the road is marked by the beginning of trails leading up streams and mountains and by a major entrance into the Acadia National Park. At the start of this drive is a small triangle of green, marred by obtrusive signs of the highwaymen but calling out for a bed of well-tended flowers. At the other end, across from a village green , stands at the road's center a rough-hewn drinking fountain for horses, placed in memory of the village's first citizen.
Just a part of Route 3, it is true; and the state is reluctant to give it any other name or any special designation. One day, perhaps, the turns in the road will be straightened out and its speed limit so increased that people will be able to traverse it without seeing anything at all. Such is life, the cynic may aver. Are we not always seeking to go faster and more directly toward our goal, while we lose all sense of the quality of existence?