The promise of a kosher meal lured us. My husband Julian and I had eaten vegetarian style for two weeks, first on a windjammer cruise off the Maine coast, then as we camped our way home across New England. Along the way, we stopped at the camp I had attended for six summers in the 1950s. That’s where I had first slept in sleeping bags and tents, cooked over open fires, and deepened my love of the woods and the out-of-doors.
In New Hampshire, we chose a campground near Franconia Notch for its proximity to Robert Frost’s home. The very idea of wandering through Frost’s woods, reading his poetry, brought a smile to my face. We settled in, pitching our fern green umbrella tent in a clearing surrounded by trees. We zipped our sleeping bags together. There was just enough space beside this now double bed for our small suitcase with camping clothes. The clothes we had worn in Boston, where we had taken our niece and nephew to dinner on our way to Maine, remained in the car trunk. No need for a skirt or sports coat in the woods.
While Julian dug shallow ditches around the tent in case of rain, I cooked tuna, rice, and mushroom soup on our Coleman stove. I cut up tomatoes and cucumbers we had purchased that afternoon, wishing we could have bought ground beef as well. But, not surprisingly, there had been no kosher meat in the country store where we stopped. Our choice of keeping kosher, and traveling as vegetarians back in 1982, set us apart from most of the world.
After a dry night’s sleep and a quick breakfast of cereal and milk, we wandered through Frost’s woods, reading his poetry tacked to the trees: “Birches” nailed to a white-barked tree, “The Road Not Taken” near a leaf-littered path forking off the main trail, “Mending Wall,” with the line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” next to a stone wall at the edge of Frost’s property.
Later that morning, we drove to the trailhead of a hike the campground manager had recommended. When we realized we were walking the trail in the opposite direction from everyone else, we laughed and asked each other how we always manage to be different, wherever we are.
Talk about different. We were startled to pass a flock of people with covered heads, long sleeves, modest clothing too warm for the weather. We spoke to a woman who seemed equally startled when we introduced ourselves as members of an Orthodox Jewish congregation. My shorts and sleeveless shirt, reflecting my non-observant upbringing and my belief in dressing for the weather and activity, certainly didn’t fit her expectations for “Orthodox.” We asked her why there were so many Orthodox folks here. Our quick conversation revealed that nearby, in Bethlehem (of all the names), was a summer colony of Orthodox Jews. We could probably get a dinner reservation at the hotel, she told us.
It didn’t take us long to decide, as we trekked along the trail bordered by deep green moss and brilliantly colored wildflowers, that we would return to the campsite by way of Bethlehem. Our backward route—the road less traveled by—brought us to the same spectacular waterfall that those traveling the “right” way found. After enjoying its beauty, we continued in our nonconformist direction to the car. We drove to the hotel to make dinner reservations. Still wearing our shorts, we entered the aging clapboard building and crossed the hardwood floor toward the reception counter at the far end of the dimly lit lobby where we made our request. “Yes, but you must be modestly dressed,” the receptionist admonished us. Right. We knew that.
Fortunately, our city outfits were still in the car. We drove along the wooded highway, seeking a gas station with rest rooms in which to change. No luck. As the dinner hour approached, we stopped on the shoulder. With the car as my shield, I replaced shorts with denim skirt and tee shirt with long-sleeved blouse. This in the name of modesty.
At dinner, we were seated with a couple from Argentina, whose English was no more fluent than our Spanish. I wondered if a language barrier, like a fence, makes good neighbors. It surely does not make for interesting tablemates. Eating in silence, however, gave me ample time to peruse the room. Darkness. Drabness. The women all wore dreary colors. The men wore black coats and black hats. All except one, a maverick in brown.
And then there was Julian. His summer sports coat was a light blue plaid on an ivory background. His head covering was a matching knit kipa. His multihued clothes identified us as outsiders. Although I saw no outright stares, I noticed that many diners cast surreptitious peeks in our direction. They must have wondered what we were doing there. We’d have wondered too if we hadn’t been so meat-starved.
After dinner, we returned to the state park. As we walked together toward our tent, I imagined what people in neighboring campsites would think if they could see Julian’s natty sports jacket in the glow of our flashlights. Inside, I could no longer stifle my laughter. While Julian zipped the mesh door, I collapsed on the sleeping bag in giggles. I couldn’t decide if that snappy outfit was more out of place in Bethlehem’s Orthodox hotel or in the campground of a New Hampshire forest.
Lines from Frost flitted through my head:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by…