HAMMOND | It's dark, the darkest day of the year, in fact, and you're venturing into the dark woods with strangers you've never met before.
You're hoping they're not Satanists or pagans hell-bent on human sacrifice.
That almost sounds more plausible than Frosties — Robert Frost enthusiasts who meet once a year to recite poetry in an eldritch patch of woods in Hammond, under the eternal torches that burn over the BP Whiting Refinery.
Not so, organizer David Dabertin would tell you.
Northwest Indiana may have a lunch-pail reputation, but it's, in fact, filled with intellectuals who might clock in at a factory but also read poetry and listen to opera in their garages, he said. It's no surprise that 30 to 40 intrepid souls venture out into a North Hammond forest every year to recite a poem.
In a unique Region tradition that supposedly stretches back decades, a few dozen people gather every Dec. 21 at the Hammond Environmental Education Center by Lake George, across from Wolf Lake. They read Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
Guided by the narrow beams of diverging flashlights, the shadowy figures – many English majors, some with small kids in tow – marched along a trail Monday night, hopped over a fence, loped across the Lost Marsh Golf Course and strode over boardwalks while the waves gently lapped. The air was crisp. Had winter been more cooperative and it snowed, they would have trundled over the frozen lake.
This year, the Frosties trudged through mud and over greens, along scenic expanses of water, to a copse of denuded trees, where they warned of a snapping turtle with a shell the size of trash can lid and "Sandies" – disciples of the poet Carl Sandburg – the way one would of wood snipes or chupacabras.
After reciting Frost's poem, first from memory, then from crumpled printouts, they debated its meaning, whether it was literal or the narrator yearned for death's cold embrace. They speculated about the symbolism and if the woods' owner might be God, and his cabin in the village might be a church.
Here's the Frost poem they read:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.