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The Trail
by [?]

When you say “trail” to a Westerner, his eye lights up. This is because it means something to him. To another it may mean something entirely different, for the blessed word is of that rare and beautiful category which is at once of the widest significance and the most intimate privacy to him who utters it. To your mind leaps the picture of the dim forest-aisles and the murmurings of tree-top breezes; to him comes a vision of the wide dusty desert; to me, perhaps, a high wild country of wonder. To all of us it is the slender, unbroken, never-ending thread connecting experiences.

For in a mysterious way, not to be understood, our trails never do end. They stop sometimes, and wait patiently while we dive in and out of houses, but always when we are ready to go on, they are ready too, and so take up the journey placidly as though nothing had intervened. They begin, when? Sometime, away in the past, you may remember a single episode, vivid through the mists of extreme youth. Once a very little boy walked with his father under a green roof of leaves that seemed farther than the sky and as unbroken. All of a sudden the man raised his gun and fired upwards, apparently through the green roof. A pause ensued. Then, hurtling roughly through still that same green roof, a great bird fell, hitting the earth with a thump. The very little boy was I. My trail must have begun there under the bright green roof of leaves.

From that earliest moment the Trail unrolls behind you like a thread so that never do you quite lose connection with your selves. There is something a little fearful to the imaginative in the insistence of it. You may camp, you may linger, but some time or another, sooner or later, you must go on, and when you do, then once again the Trail takes up its continuity without reference to the muddied place you have tramped out in your indecision or indolence or obstinacy or necessity. It would be exceedingly curious to follow out in patience the chart of a man’s going, tracing the pattern of his steps with all its windings of nursery, playground, boys afield, country, city, plain, forest, mountain, wilderness, home, always on and on into the higher country of responsibility until at the last it leaves us at the summit of the Great Divide. Such a pattern would tell his story as surely as do the tracks of a partridge on the snow.

A certain magic inheres in the very name, or at least so it seems to me. I should be interested to know whether others feel the same glamour that I do in the contemplation of such syllables as the Lo-Lo Trail, the Tunemah Trail, the Mono Trail, the Bright Angel Trail. A certain elasticity of application too leaves room for the more connotation. A trail may be almost anything. There are wagon-trails which East would rank as macadam roads; horse-trails that would compare favorably with our best bridle-paths; foot-trails in the fur country worn by constant use as smooth as so many garden-walks. Then again there are other arrangements. I have heard a mule-driver overwhelmed with skeptical derision because he claimed to have upset but six times in traversing a certain bit of trail not over five miles long; in charts of the mountains are marked many trails which are only “ways through,”–you will find few traces of predecessors; the same can be said of trails in the great forests where even an Indian is sometimes at fault. “Johnny, you’re lost,” accused the white man. “Trail lost: Injun here,” denied the red man. And so after your experience has led you by the campfires of a thousand delights, and each of those campfires is on the Trail, which only pauses courteously for your stay and then leads on untiring into new mysteries forever and ever, you come to love it as the donor of great joys. You too become a Westerner, and when somebody says “trail,” your eye too lights up.