Blaze, meaning a white patch on a horse’s forehead, was applied by English colonists to the marking of a forest route by periodically axing off a piece of tree bark to expose a portion of lighter-colored wood. The Native Americans they learned from blazed lightly with tomahawks when pursuing wounded prey, to code the way back. For Euro-Americans the word came to signify both the marking and the making of a path, road, or survey line, and the fact or fancy of “blazing a trail” took on mythic status with the westward expansion. Many hiking trails still bear blazes, made in the traditional fashion or applied as small metal plates instead, usually superfluous in summer but useful to ski-trekkers when snow has buried the trail. There may be woodsmen in some hinterlands of the continent who still of necessity blaze trees, but the last blazers are chiefly foresters who use spray paint and plastic ribbons to mark timber sales. For the rest of us, as we blaze into our future, the term has ascended to pure metaphor.

John Daniel