Monday, September 27, 2010

On Trail Markers

When I still lived in Connecticut, the Scout troop I was a member of used to have a tradition of hiking the Appalachian Trail every summer. We’d pack up a bunch of belongings and supplies, throw them in backpacks and march our way along the trail for fifty miles or so. It was something that I actually really enjoyed, since the hike was challenging enough to be interesting, and we got to see some pretty cool sights.

One thing we quickly learned to respect was the system of trail markers. Every so far along the trail, the path was marked with arrows or dots to show the way we were supposed to travel. Seeing one meant that we were still on track and not wandering through the forest on our own. Walking for a while without seeing one meant we started feeling a bit worried pretty quickly. They also acted almost like goal posts, giving us a way to measure our progress as we hiked.

The markers were more than merely reassuring, however, as we discovered quite a few times during our hikes. Once we missed a trail marker indicating a turn and wound up hiking halfway down a mountain to stop in a confused huddle at the edge of some farmer’s field. We ended up having to travel half a mile or so uphill, looking for the marker that we had so blithely walked by on our way down. Another time a portion of our group missed a marker and ended up at a random camp site while the rest of us passed them by. Since we had thought they were out front, the rest of us assumed that they were still marching along ahead and kept going, hoping to catch up to them. When they finally returned to the trail, they wound up having to chase the rest of us for a mile or so, and only really managed to reach us because one hiker decided to stop on their own. Missed markers were bad news, and pretty much all of us quickly learned to keep a sharp eye out for the little white splashes of paint—and learned to despise the clumps of lichen that imitated them on the tree bark.

I guess my thoughts have been wandering to this point in my life because lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been walking along the trail without seeing a marker for a while. The standards and guides that I used to use to measure my progress and keep myself on track have seemed to vanish, and I no longer seem to see the goals that once led me forward. The haunting fear of having left the trail and the dread of having to hike back to find it are creeping around with me, too. If such a course correction is unpleasant on a hiking trip, I can only imagine how bad it will get when I’m doing it with life choices.

Then again, sometimes markers pop out at times when you least expected or hoped for them. Perhaps that is what I need, right? :) In any case, I think I’ll post again on Wednesday and Friday this week. I promise to try to be a bit less melancholy and mopey. See ya round!

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