A trail is a simple path worn by animals or people passing repeatedly through a remote or rugged territory. The many kinds of trails include cattle, deer, and mountain trails; historic trails of Native American origin; trails for skiing and hiking, and for walking through parks and nature sanctuaries. As a word for such routes, trail comes into use around 1800; the earlier word, still used in southern states, is trace. In American English, trail has taken on iconic status, suggesting a journey into wilderness or unknown territory. But not into the entirely unknown, of course, for the trail is itself a guide, embodying collective intelligence about the best way through a region. Indeed, many full-fledged roads now follow the route of former trails; the Yadkin Road, in Moore County, North Carolina, for example, grew from a Catawba trail, which in turn likely grew from a path first made by buffalo migrating between the Piedmont and coastal marshes. Named American trails include the Iditarod Trail (Anchorage to Nome, Alaska); the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails (used by settlers going west); the Appalachian Trail (Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia); and the Trail of Tears, the route of the forced Cherokee trek. Of that route, Edna Ferber writes, in Cimarron: “Tears came to his own eyes when he spoke of the Trail of Tears, in which the Cherokees, a peaceful and home-loving Indian tribe, were torn from the land which a government had given them by sworn treaty, to be sent far away on a march which, from cold, hunger, exposure, and heartbreak, was marked by bleaching bones from Georgia to Oklahoma.” In recent decades the new occupation of trail-builder has arisen, reflecting a contemporary American desire to spend more time in remote and wild places. Each summer now in the West thousands of young people make their living “digging trail” deep into the wilderness.

Emily Hiestand