Orienting Amidst Trails, Peaks, and Yellow Aspens

'Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

THE trail leads out of the forest into a vast meadow surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, the Sangre de Cristos on our left and the Spanish Peaks to our right. The air is crisp and looming thunder clouds are just beginning to peer at us from around the edge of the peaks to our south. We decide to stop for some gorp before heading over the pass to the next valley where we are to spend the night.Slowly I drop the 40-pound pack from my back to the ground. I detach my water bottle from my pack and drink slowly, taking deep breaths between gulps. Amy asks for the bottle. I hand it to her and walk over to a log. I lie on the ground and prop my head against the rotted wood. I drop gorp from my dirty hand into my mouth as I look up at the sky. High above, a bald eagle is circling. I am in southern Colorado on a "FOOT," (Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip). We are 12 college freshmen being led through the southern Rockies by two senior leaders. It is the last weekend of September. The college divides the academic year into eight blocks of three-and- a-half weeks each. The first block of my three-block course 'Renaissance Culture' is over. It went so fast! It seems like just yesterday that I walked out of the Colorado Springs airport with all my bags and was awestruck by Pike's Peak. I can hardly remember that first week. The week when I would walk into the dining room, not recognize anyone, and decide I could go without lunch that day. The week when I called everyone I knew and to ld them now great it was, while inside I was afraid to hang up because I hadn't a clue what to do when I did. But soon that all changed. I began to meet fascinating people from all over. I went rock climbing with my roommate and a new friend, and got stuck on the face of a large boulder because I couldn't stop laughing. Then the first block began. I started to read Plato, Socrates, Erasmus, Dante, and Augustine. My first paper was due; I was supposed to discuss my definition of what happiness is. I got a B. I began to go to meals with friends and started writing letters instead of using the phone. It was college. I had been ready for this step since the beginning of my junior year in high school. Orientation and the first block were better than I had originally anticipated. The eagle is so high. I wonder if he can see over the ridge we are about to cross. I walk back to the group. I hold Anne's pack as she puts it back on. We head off across the meadow. The other side of the meadow is lined by a solid wall of yellow aspen. We enter the forest again. Thunder can be heard off in the distance as the first few raindrops of the day hit my nose. I am ahead of the group by some distance, and I am the first to see the fork in the trail. I stop and wait for the "Footie" with the map. As I stand in the rain, enjoying the last bits of M&Ms from the gorp, I realize the scene I am looking at is Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" envisioned. It begins, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood It takes me back to my junior year at boarding school, where we studied the poem in English class. My friend Brookes and I had to do a group assignment together. We decided to act out and videotape it on one of the 360 acres of land the school owned. I remember that day well. I met Brookes down in the library after school. We signed out a camera and headed off across campus. We spent quite a while traipsing around trying to find a divergence that led into the barren woods. It was cold, very cold. A thin layer of snow dusted the ground. Finally, behind the soccer mesa, we found the perfect place. There we set the camera on a tripod and staged a few dry runs. I had left my gloves at the dorm, thinking this would take only a short time. A big mistake. We kept having to do retake after retake in order for Brookes to come to the divergence in the path and choose "the one less traveled by," just at the time I read the passage. When we finally finished, the sun had begun to sink behind the St. Louis landscape. Feeling pretty good about our shoot, we headed up to the girls' dorm to drink hot cocoa and t haw our bodies by the fire. As it happens, most of my closest high school friends decided to attend the same college. I was very tempted to join them. I had made some good friends during my three years of boarding school. I was afraid of losing them if we went to different colleges. I was unsure if the bonds we had formed were strong enough to last. But after several weeks of intense thought, I decided to take the road "less traveled." Brookes made the same choice. I have talked with Brookes since college began. I could tell by the tone in his voice that, like me, he feels he made the right decision. We needed to strike out on our own, to challenge ourselves. I realize now that it does not matter which road we take. Often two trails lead to the same place. One trail can lead up an incline, above timberline and over a peak, while the other may take you through the woods and around the mountain. Some of what worried me has come to pass. Some of those high school bonds have melted away. But others have grown stronger. I see now that this would have happened even if we had all gone to college together. For the moment I am happy to be standing in the rain, having just crossed a Colorado mountain meadow with a 40-pound pack on my back. I hear the "Footies" drawing near. I take in a deep breath, and a reviving freshness from the rain fills my lungs. Dan is the first "footie" I see. I ask if he has the map. He does, and I pull it out of the pack on his back. The map tells us to go to the left. We take a sip of the water from his canteen and wait for the group to assemble. After we help Anne adjust the waist strap on her pack, we move off in a single file along a path that takes us into the stand of vibrant yellow aspens.

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