Painting the way

Even though I enjoy exploring the woods beyond the beaten, dog shit-lined path, I like trail markers.

Maybe it’s simply the sight of a colorful splotch of paint on rough tree bark.

Maybe it’s the secret code aspect of trail sign, bits of twigs arranged in symbols and arrows, miniature rock cairns reassuring you that “this is the way.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a hiker my whole life.  I can remember all the way back to when I was three years old, running through the woods, ahead of the rest of my family, following the bright paints.  Because the trail markers showed me where to go, I could run from the hot sun to the relief of tree-shade and be safe, cool, and alone for a moment, until my family showed up.

Trail markers went with shade, rocks to climb on, and a canteen full of sun-warmed water.

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It’s weird, but I have a mild fear of becoming lost. Weird, because I’m good with directions, and have only been truly lost a couple times in my life.  If I’m driving somewhere and want to try a different route, I can usually wing it and end up in the right place.  Winging it does not include GPS, which is no fun.  It’s hand-holding, and on the inside, I’m still the kid who ran ahead of her parents.  Trail markers, maps, and compasses reassure me, but I can get by without them unless I’m in a totally new place.

I’ve been writing a children’s chapter book with the working title “Pumpkin Goblins.” The main character is a kid who’s having the worst Halloween ever, and I gave her my fear of getting lost. Only for her, it’s not a mild fear that crops up now and then.  It’s a big enough deal that she wears a compass around her neck at all times.  My own fear may be minor, but it made me curious.  I didn’t know why being lost scared me until I wrote most of “Pumpkin Goblins.”

Becoming lost is a loss of control.  And if you keep a tight enough hold on your map and compass, if you keep your trail markers in sight, maybe you never have to experience it.

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Lichen, not a trail marker at all. You’ve been had.

That’s a false hope.

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