It may surprise you to know that I am a bit of a poetry fan. I think I was about 14 when I bought a book that combined the beautiful words of Robert Frost with pictures of the unique beauty of New England. What an amazing book!
One page quickly became my favorite and the corners and edges were dog-eared and worn by my frequent visits. On it, in full fall splendor, a narrow New England road framed in yellow and red came to a junction and split into two roads. As hard as I looked, I could not see where those roads went as bends and fog obscured their path. I loved the words on that page. It is a classic piece of American literature – “The Road Not Taken.”
The poem is quite simple. A traveller is faced with a fork in the road and talks about the choice he must make. The fork is a metaphor for choice; a choice between two decidedly different paths.
Oscar Wilde wrote “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Friends, he was right. Robert Frost’s classic poem has captured the very real life decisions that Alaskans are being asked to make today.
There is no question we all have the same destination in mind – a healthy, stable, prosperous future for our state, our children and our grandchildren. However, there seems to be two decidedly different routes that people want to take to get there.
One road is a path that views resource development industries as partners. It recognizes that the men and women that work in these industries are our neighbors and care deeply about developing our abundant resources in a responsible way. Along this path, there is confidence in the Alaska institutions that make decisions and support for the common good. And, yes, industry is held accountable for its performance, but issues are usually solved by honest communication and working together.
The other road is a path that views resource development industries as the enemy. It unfairly judges the motives of the people that work in these industries and assumes the worst of the companies seeking to invest in Alaska. Along this path, Alaska’s regulatory processes are discounted and undermined and self-interest is put ahead of the common good. Honest communication is often replaced by hyperbole and disparaging remarks.
Am I being unfair? I don’t think so. Think about the biggest issues we are being confronted with today - from Pebble Mine to oil taxes to LNG - and consider the debate around them. Ask yourself why some portray the companies involved in these issues as the villains.
This brings me back to Robert Frost.
Some have mistakenly called the poem ‘the road less travelled,’ because of the words in the last stanza. However, if you read it closely, the choice confronting the traveller is, in fact, two roads that look much the same.
What gets missed is that in making his choice, the traveller anticipates regret. He first thinks that he can always come back and take the other path, but reality tells him he will likely never get that chance. So he settles on changing the story so he can live with himself in the future. He will tell himself he chose the road less travelled when really the choice was much different.
In real life, the decisions Alaskans take today will have a profound impact on our future. And like the traveller, in making those decisions we may never have a chance for a “do-over.” However, unlike the traveller, I am not willing to change history to explain the regret we may have to live with in the future. Wouldn’t we rather chose the right path in the first place?
If we asked the people that used to work in Alaska’s timber industry, they would tell us that is the best road to choose.
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