American Elephants

There’s a Lot of History Tied Up in America’s Trails. by The Elephant's Child
August 11, 2021, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , ,

A trail through a sunlit Pacific Northwest forest.

I love the photo of the trail through the Pacific Northwest woods. Trails are so evocative, they beckon you to follow to see what is around the next corner. But think back a little to the time of the first arrivals in this new world. The Puritans were headed for Virginia, but got blown off course. They had been 66 days at sea, more than two months. No baths, dealing with animal and human excrement, I’m not sure we are capable of imagining. The exercise might help those who are kneeling for the National Anthem, to get their heads on straight.

The Puritans landed on the shore of Massachusetts Bay in November of 1620. November is already winter. They had brought their farm animals, but they had to find food. They had guns. There were clearly fish in the ocean, maybe clams, birds must have been seen, but it’s not till you try to imagine looking for food, that you begin to recognize the absolute unknown that they faced. They had to figure out what was safe to eat, where it was safe to sleep, to cook, what to cook. How to find fuel. build fires. They even had to find ways to corral their livestock. The land was absolutely unknown. It would take time for them to have the courage to even venture away from the ship.

Picking up driftwood, sticks, trying to find enough to build and feed a fire. A fire would have been comforting. They would have had knives, hatchets, flint, but for us who are accustomed to plenty of matches, kindling, barbecue briquets. I’m not sure we are even capable of imagining. Perhaps the Mayflower was well moored, and they could still sleep aboard. Our experience with going camping isn’t really related. I’ve done a lot of camping, but trying to imagine what those very courageous souls were facing is pretty much beyond me.

But somehow they did it. Not easily, some died, but they persevered and somehow created a colony and then a state and then a country. Fought a revolution to get rid of the ruling country. What a glorious and moving story and we cannot appreciate their efforts and struggles enough. There were no roads, nor would be in their lifetimes, but there were trails, and this is meant to be an appreciation of trails. But more came, and everyone struggled, and slowly they followed the Indian trails, then made their own trails and more trails, and the trails became pathways to build a country. But I am writing about trails.

We have all sorts of historic trails, the Appalachian trail extends from Mr. Katahadin in Maine to the mountains in southern Georgia for over 2,300 miles. Then there’s the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, the Mission Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and so many more. If you enjoy a bit of hiking, you could plan your vacations for years on the National

It is, after all, how the United States of America was created and spread from coast to coast, by people taking the chance to follow a trail, and often to settle down at the other end.That’s how America moved from a tiny encampment on Massachusetts Bay across the whole continent. Hopeful people putting one foot in front of another, sure that they would find an even better place just over the next hill. We started on foot, and then on horseback, then with a pack horse and a whole train of pack horses, and then widening the trail for a wagon. And wagons grew into wagon trains, and they were covered to protect from the weather. And they pushed on gradually, across a whole continent, and there was a different ocean on the other side.

Thousands of stories. Seeing buffalo for the first time, Indian tribes who had never seen a white man nor a covered wagon pulled by horses. Mountains higher and more rugged than anything ever seen before anywhere.. Each state has its own stories, California’s Mission Trail founded by Priests coming up from South America. Sailing ships learning how to round the horn, Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea are represented by paintings, Sacagawea is always pointing off to the distance.

There was once a railroad that ran past our place in Idaho, about sixty miles or more of track. When logging ceased and a major sawmill shut down, the shipments of cattle and sheep weren’t enough to keep the railroad in business. The passenger train had gone away earlier, and when the railroad stopped operating, the would-be hikers wanted the right of way to be turned into a trail. I don’t know how much it is used. It certainly isn’t crowded, but beautiful as it follows a free-flowing river for around sixty miles. I suspect there is not much traffic. As always, the idea seems wonderful, but then going out in the weather and putting one foot in front of another for several miles, returns to our ordinary humanity. We’re only human, and usually lazy.

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