Montana Outdoors

March 21, 2007

Deer Trails and Highways of the Mind

Filed under: Inspiration, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Reflections, Writing — montucky @ 9:56 pm

The mid-October morning is crisp and cold. Your jacket feels good, even though the front is now opened slightly to let in a little of the cool mountain air and your wool boot socks are comforting on your feet. You look down and see your tracks mingling with those of other wild things who have recently passed this way.

The valley several hours below is hiding beneath a thick curtain of white clouds and as you look back down it is easy to forget all of the cares left behind in the world of man. The trail ahead points toward a small saddle on the ridge-line, and once you arrive, the trail is no more.

If you were to place deer trails on a map of the mountains, you would see no more than a seemingly random series of dotted lines going nowhere in particular. One commonality of these trails is that they are short. They have formed, not as highways through the wilderness with specific destinations in mind, but simply as the most efficient ways to traverse stretches of difficult terrain: once that has been accomplished, there is no longer a need for them and they abruptly end. Wild creatures do not confine themselves to roads. Every inch of the wild country is part of their home. Freedom begins where the trail ends.

Men build roads. When you encounter a small road and take the right direction, it will lead to a larger road and so on until you come to a town. Highways are made for common use and that use is governed by a large bundle of rules and regulations, signs and instructions that everyone is obligated to obey. Once uniformity is attained, traffic flows smoothly and (hopefully) safely. Certainly, I would not argue that there is not a beneficial purpose to all this.

But is it not a side effect of all this channeled purpose that man has also created highways of the mind? Roads (if you will) with common destinations and specific rules to be followed? Specific ways of thinking that are carefully taught to new generations who understand that they must be obeyed? The masses study the Times to learn what books should be read, what movies should be seen, what values should be theirs.

Who dares to leave these highways of the mind and what happens to them when they do? And what happens when no one ever again leaves these highways?

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