The Rat Race/The Road Not Taken

Despite living off-grid in the middle-of-nowhere, Alaska, I still succumb to the rat race on a regular basis. A daily engagement of battle between what I need, what I want, and what everybody else has. A daily struggle to find contentment with where I am, to learn from past decisions, and to make wiser decisions for a better future. While I feel that I do a decent job of winning the Rat Race battle on a day-to-day basis, sometimes I feel like I am losing the war. And that is how I feel today.

We visited Seward for a few days, and as many of you know, Seward is where I moved to in 9th grade, graduated high school, and returned after the military. Seward is where my mother died, where my mother and grandmother had their ashes spread, where my two nephews live, where nearly every friend I made in my life besides the ones in the military and the few I have around here live. Seward is the place where I learned how to work hard, drink harder, and smoke tough. Where I broke hearts, had my heart broken, bought and sold property after my mother died and I cheated on somebody I did not love but had no escape from the relationship. Seward is a place full of memories, both good and bad, trapped within the mountains like fog on the bay. A fog that I cannot escape.

And while we had a wonderful time visiting friends I had not seen in years, many of whom had not met my wife and children, hiking, biking, trying to stay dry, playing at playgrounds, and having an all around rad time… After returning home to our little country haven, I can’t help to shake this feeling of “not doing as well as my colleagues.”

Many of my friends in Seward own a house, some of them own two, and the houses are priced exorbitantly due to lack of space and an influx of people moving to Seward in the past 10 years. And while the houses are close enough to feel like San Francisco, we can’t even dream of being given a loan there because we don’t make enough consistent money. I’ll provide an example: We found a 1.4 acre lot on a road named Olympia (I went to college in Olympia, it must be a sign), that used to be a forest where I pitched a tent in high school (it must be a sign.) 1.4 acres of raw land = $299,000. We paid $80,000 for 20 acres and a 700 square foot house. Many of my friends make a killing with AirBnB rentals, others are looking into buying second homes to do just that. They literally make thousands of dollars a month from May-September, on top of thousands of dollars a month with restaurant jobs, longshoreman jobs, teaching jobs, heavy machinery jobs, mechanic jobs, carpentry jobs, and on and on…

I imagine that all of these people are overloaded with money, that every problem that comes from not having enough money are non-existent. They don’t keep a budget or go without cheese or think twice about buying a snow machine or a new travel trailer or a boat or a second home in Hawai’i or using hand-me-downs from one sibling to the next. They make so much money that their bank accounts are loaded with hundreds of thousands, their assets priced at millions, and their purpose within their community on the priceless list.

While here I am… living in an unfinished house, off-grid, without any more than a couple of friends and a couple of crops after ten years of struggle and hard work on the land.

When I allow my mind to stay in this place, I look past all of the accomplishments, assets, memories, and internal growth that has happened on this land in the past ten years. I focus on imaginary positive aspects of everybody else’s life, the “pros”, while neglecting to gain a deeper understanding of the negative sides, the cons, of their lives.

I know that I am “only human” and that this feeling comes to most of us out here struggling in this material world. Whether it’s comparing my garden to my neighbor’s, my book sales to Jack Ryan’s, or my lack of toys to a guy down the street who I have never even talked to. It happens, and sometimes it hits like a blizzard that only lasts a few hours while other times it strikes like the rain that hasn’t lifted all summer.

I forget to look at the gifts God provides me and my family, and I have to take inventory of them. Savanna read some of Wendell Berry’s essay on Family Farming to me today reminding me that a family farm isn’t meant to focus solely on profits, but on the long term health of the farm and all who reside on the farm. And we are all healthy, no doubt. We spend countless hours together raising our girls instead of paying somebody else to. We have a paid off home and property with twenty acres of freedom to build and do whatever the hell we want without having to ask permission from a city or town or Homeowner’s Association. We have two paid off vehicles that run and a sporty rig that does more than we need. We don’t worry about money, but desire more when we dream of snow machines, boats, four-wheelers, surfboards, second homes, vacations, college education for kids, horses, and living more comfortably than we are. We have a big garden that is growing larger every year, tons of skills that are used daily, and others that are on the back burner for just in case times. I have a loving relationship and a best friend in the girl of my dreams, and we have two healthy daughters who love and respect us. We have healthy dogs, too many chickens, and a cat that is happy to pee on my bed when I leave for a few days. And most importantly, I have a sober life that is filled with present moment gratitude and awareness of the treasures that I possess.

Could I learn healthier and wiser ways to invest our money to potentially make more money? Yes. Could I learn better ways of strategizing to build a successful farm, a profitable writing career, and a healthy work/play balance? Yes. But, I need to step away from this feeling of “not keeping up with my colleagues” and be reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”.

The Road Not Taken 


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Published by secretgardenalaska

Best friends raising two daughters off-grid in a remote area of Alaska. We grow food, write stories, make jewelry, and live a sober life.

3 thoughts on “The Rat Race/The Road Not Taken

  1. Thank you for sharing the good and the bad .I look forward to your thoughts .i saw the email and made myself wait for coffee this am .what a treat to remind us all to receive life’s gifts with a open mind of acceptance and appreciation no matter what chapter we are in .we are so lucky in so many ways .including having people like your family in this world

  2. Bob Stark, I love reading your Secret Garden Alaska posts, you’re fearless with your emotions and what you choose to write about…I too sometimes go down the road of thought, in comparing my life to my family or the lives of others I grew up with and I always come to the understanding that our lives would be incredibly boring if everyone was the same…Even if everyone had 2 homes worth millions, 5 shinny new cars, and no financial worries, life would eventually get extremely boring…I think it’s the road less traveled that makes someone incredibly unique and special…You are that person my friend…You know the true value and the powerful bond that’s created, raising a family without babysitters…You know how much work it takes to grow food in Alaska…You know how the difficult times builds character…You know what it’s like to loose friends in and after a seemingly endless and meaningless war…You know about the daily struggles of being an addict and overcoming those struggles…You know how long it can takes to find your very best friend and lover…I think you are who you are because of the path you’ve chosen in life and that’s what makes you so rad…That’s why you have such a powerful voice and such a caring and loving personality…I love who you are dude and I’m so stoked that you get to share it all through the timeless art form of writing and words…Keep it up, you’re do’n fuck’n great man…

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