In Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” the speaker finds himself at a crossroads in a “yellow wood,” divergent paths at his feet. Sorry he “could not travel both / And be one traveler,” he lingers, debating which one to follow. At last, he chooses the one that seems slightly less worn.
Many people focus on the last two lines of the poem — “I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference” — and read them as a positive commentary on taking the alternate path. In this interpretation, “all the difference” means that the speaker’s life was improved greatly by that path.
However, Frost was a master of the double–even triple–meaning. Perhaps, in fact, the speaker wishes he’d taken the other path. Or, maybe neither path is all good or all bad–one is just different from the other. They share a common beginning, and they may arrive at a singular destination, but in between, the way diverges and each is equally important. Not unlike… a history of a life, or a place, you might say.
So by now you’ve probably guessed that the use of this poem in this post is no coincidence. Indeed, “The Road Not Taken” literally helps inform the experience of the Cumberland/North Yarmouth team. Roads themsleves are, as one team member put it, “a huge part of the character” of the area. Where and when they were built has driven much of the history of the place. One example is Route 9, which connects Cumberland and North Yarmouth to the Portland metro area. Built in 1920, the road eventually established the region as a cozy bedroom community and kept other kinds of development at bay.
But it is really the metaphor of separate paths that most vividly evokes the history of this unique MCHP community. Like Frost’s traveler, the two towns started out on unified ground as part of “Ancient North Yarmouth.” Incorporated in 1680, this region also included today’s Yarmouth proper, Pownal, Freeport, Harpswell, and part of Brunswick. By the mid-1800s, however, all the towns had become individual entities. Cumberland was second-to-last to incorporate in 1821; Yarmouth itself followed in 1849.
North Yarmouth and Cumberland then wound their independent ways into the next century. Neither path was better than the other–just different. But given proximity, the paths were destined to meet up again. Prince Memorial Library provided an early linkage. Although situated in Cumberland, the library has been patronized by residents of both towns since its creation in the 1920s; North Yarmouth began contributing annually to the library’s operating budget in 1972. Perhaps the most significant alignment came with the creation of MSAD #51 in 1966. Now families from the two towns were intertwined via their children, and town leaders were connected by considerable adminstrative and budgetary responsibilities.
Fast forward to today. Still wending individual paths, Cumberland and North Yarmouth are nevertheless moving toward a singular destination via the MCHP. The mirage of a shared local history website shimmers in the distance (specifically, next June). As the year progresses, the vision will gain clarity and form.
Never mind that there are two paths instead of one. Community needn’t be defined strictly by a single towns’ borders. It can, in fact, be liberating to think of the creation of “community” as an intentional exercise–come together because you want to, celebrating each of your identities equally–rather than something imposed by the lines on a map.
And never mind that this particular destination is a “virtual” one. The effects may be just as real and long-lasting as building another road.