More on the Map to Trails Untried, Untrod

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear; that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn, and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

Thoreau

 

Last time around, I began a discussion of the ways we direct ourselves into narrow channels in life. We commute the same way day after day, choose exactly the “right” neighborhoods for ourselves, and we strive for just the right credentials, hyper-specializing our way into very limited possibilities. But then, beyond all this, I think we equally limit ourselves as we head out into the wild.

Among fishermen, particularly, I meet so many who want only to go to the old traditional fishing hole where grandpa and dad always caught so many fine trout. And in following the path of familiarity, we deprive ourselves of the possibilities around the next bend of the river. And this is important because the river you’re fishing isn’t the same river dad and grandpa fished in. Things change and streams, rivers and lakes are among those things that change. A stream may cut a new channel for itself in a single season and the currents continually cut new features into the streambed around rocks and logs. And this causes fish to move around too along with the seasonal movements they pursue anyway. The point here is that to be a successful angler, you need to never stop exploration. And maybe move beyond trout some day too.

We want to go back to the places we felt happy once on a fair weather day. And this one applies to anglers, hikers, cyclists and everyone else, I think. But I’ve found that I can never go back to the same geographic location and have the same experience or feelings a second time. Again, things change, given time in our dynamic environment.

We look too often to the recommendations of outdoors advertisements or magazine features to find our next place of adventure instead of beginning with a map and thinking for ourselves. We want to buy adventure the way we might buy any other product and hence deprive ourselves of the most important part: self-direction. And we feel cheated if we can’t have the advertised experience, instead of accepting what nature sends us.

We look for the perfect place to pitch our tent at the end of the day, not knowing that the imperfect, perhaps rockier place we’d passed up was the home of a family of fishers we would have been able to meet had we not gone on to the official, “perfect” tenting site.

We want only “perfect” light for our photography instead of learning to use muted or dappled sunlight. Again, we miss opportunity in pursuit of pre-conceived “perfection”.

 

We too often follow the trails already blazed for us and hence see that part of the wild that everyone else passing this way encounters. How much better to blaze our own trails, or better yet, to step quietly through the trail-less parts of the forest in pursuit of the happy surprises that abound in the wild.

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