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The season of detours: roads less traveled

Detroit Lakes Newspapers columnist Lynn Hummel recently published his fourth book, "The Last Word," a collection of some of his favorite columns from the past 40 years.

This is the season of detours. I have been traveling one regularly during the past week. We can consider a detour to be an irritating inconvenience or an interesting opportunity. There is something to be said for getting off the beaten path and looking around.

In 1916, poet Robert Frost penned "The Road Not Taken." And there, in four verses and 20 lines, he described coming upon a trail that divides in the woods and the hiker must decide which path to follow. Quite likely he will never return to explore the other path. The last three lines of the poem summarize his choice:

Two roads diverged in the wood, and I —

Took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.

What the poem means exactly, nobody knows for sure. Does it suggest, for example, choosing to be a poet instead of a school teacher? What Frost did admit was that whichever way you go, you're going to miss something good on the other path.

Somewhat on the same subject, William Least Heat-Moon, who was born William Trogdon, separated from his wife and lost his job as a teacher, so he bought a little van and outfitted it with a bunk, a camping stove and a portable toilet and proceeded on a 13,000-mile tour of the United States on "blue highways" only — small, forgotten, out-of-the-way roads that connect small towns with small towns.

His book "Blue Highways," published in 1982, tells how he avoided fast foods and explored the culture of rural America. He relates the conversations he had with characters along the way: A Seventh Day Adventist evangelist hitchhiker, a teenage runaway, a monk, a Nevada prostitute, a boat builder, a fisherman, a Native American medical student, owners of western saloons and country stores, a maple syrup farmer and assorted others. I read the book years ago and recommend it highly.

Our friends Bob and Jewel have been driving from Virginia to Minnesota for many years. They always take their time and avoid the freeways. They are exploring the most interesting parts of our country. But sometimes they encounter the unexpected and need to detour.

One time, Bob had the urgent need of a bathroom stop when they were driving past a mortuary. He knew he could rely on the mortuary having a bathroom. So, he stopped and ran in. As soon as he opened the door, he discovered that a viewing was taking place and he was in a line to view the body. He realized he couldn't just go to the bathroom and leave so he got in the viewing line. When he got to the body, he paused and made a solemn statement to the man behind him in line: "He was a great guy." Then he went to the bathroom and got back on a blue highway and resumed his exploration of America.

Detours will take you where you wouldn't ordinarily go. Smile and go there. They usually indicate an interruption in "the normal" because of progress — construction, a new bridge, an improvement of some sort or another. When you go you may discover an old cemetery, an old church, a body to view or a small café in Dent, Minnesota, famous for its caramel rolls.