Every trail tells a story. Some trails are like a hero’s quest that climbs toward some objective like the top of a mountain, and you, the hero meet challenges and adventure along the way. Other trails are like epics, where you must undergo one trial after another on your journey back to the car kennel where you will eat lunch and live happily ever after. Some trails describe an idea like a nonfiction book, feeding you a few details at a time from a great distance, and when you put them all together, you have a deeper understanding of a place.
The trail that Mom and I ran on our last day in the desert was like a story told by a people puppy that had just broken into the Halloween candy stash. It was a collection of details that didn’t have anything to do with each other, and didn’t make a whole lot of sense when you put them together. “…And there were mountains, but not big ones, but they were steep, but not like cliff steep… And sometimes the trail was smooth, but then sometimes it was all rugged and covered in loose rocks… And there was a stream like something out of a Dutch painting… And an old abandoned mine or quarry or something, and we explored it but didn’t really find anything but trash… And sometimes the trail was steep, but sometimes it was kind of shallow… and there were cactuses that looked like mobiles made of ping pong paddles… And when the mapp ended, the trail just kept going and we followed it for awhile but then it still kept going and we decided to turn around… And then… And… And…”
“Mom, I don’t know what this trail is trying to tell me,” I said when we’d seen the whole thing and turned around to hike-run back the way we’d come. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Why does it have to make sense?” Mom asked.
“Well I need to tell people about it, but I just don’t know what to say. People will think I’m a loser if I hang out on lame trails.”
“Have you ever had somebody tell you a lame story but you don’t mind because you’re just enjoying the time together, so it doesn’t matter what you talk about?”
“Yeah!” I said. For once I knew exactly what she was talking about! “All of your stories are lame!” Then I thought about it a little bit more. “But when you tell a bad story, I mostly feel awkward.”
“Believe me, not as awkward as I feel!” Mom said.
“Are you thinking of that time you told the story about Robing William and Coco the Gorilla?”
“Oh god, don’t remind me!” Mom cringed. “Anyway, the point is that sometimes the important thing is that you just spend time in a place without judging, and instead pay attention to what it has to tell you, even if what it has to tell you isn’t of much consequence at all.”
I’ve seen a lot of trails in The West. Some of them were show-offs. Others were know-it-alls that gave us a hard time just to show us who was boss. But I’d also been to trails in all 9 states that just wanted to show me their hills and ridges, their plants and rocks. Some had sad stories to tell about scars and traumas. “I think I get it,” I said. “Trails are like people; most of them aren’t very extraordinary at all, but all they want is to feel seen.”
“Exactly,” Mom said. “And when someone feels seen, that’s the most profound connection of all, even if no one will ever make a movie about it. I’ve never thought someone was a loser for spending time trying to see the best in people, or trails.”
So I guess you’ll just have to look at the pictures.
Oscar the Storylistener