What is a trail? What does it mean to leave a trail? How do you know which trail to follow?
Over the course of recorded history, trails are among the most constant. Tiny organisms from the Ediacaran Period (630-542 million years ago), solider ants, caterpillars, deer, buffalo, native Americans, modern highways. It would seem that since life had the ability to move, we took the opportunity. We forged forward, leaving a record of our route for others to follow and, consequently, alter.
A path is typically a passage born of artificial design. A planned walkway or thoroughfare created with the intention of travel from point A to B in a specific way. It is premeditated and unnatural, often cutting through existing obstacles. A path is unchanging and stubborn.
A trail is an organic process, a passage born of discovery. One brave traveler ambles forward, creating a proposed path. The next traveler follows, further refining the path, and so on. This process repeats, each traveler straightening the footsteps of its predecessor, until a trail is established. Without passage, without travelers, there is no trail.
A trail often follows natural features, winding and bending, working with the environment, not disrupting it. Some are obvious, guiding you unmistakably forward. Some you may miss, if not looking carefully. A trail is in a state of constant change, widening and narrowing its arteries based on the natural tendencies of its travelers.
More interestingly, a path implies you are in the way of something. I stood in the path of a charging elephant. A trail implies you are looking forward. I stood in the charging elephants’s trail.
In life, many of us are given a path. It’s often arranged in front of us, inflexible and preordained. Some walk this path, head down and accepting. Others walk it with ease and grace.
Then there are those who meander into unfamiliar territory, in search of life’s happy trails. Perhaps following the faint lines of others before them. Perhaps they are the first of their kind. They navigate a life of pliancy, adapting to changes and knowing the avenue that lies in front of them may change at a moment’s notice. I believe we all have it in us to blaze our own trail. Whether we choose to do so is entirely up to us.
That’s the beauty of trails. They are forgiving and sometimes ambiguous. They don’t always define our direction precisely, but are still there to guide us. They can lead you to an unforeseen challenge or an unexpected oasis. A trail is alive with possibility. Whether a prehistoric crustacean or 21st century backpacker, there will always be trailblazers in the world. And thank God. Without them where would we be?