What’s the difference between a trail and a road?
Trails, our original routes of travel across the land, follow the contours of the landscape. Along the winding stream, around rocks and trees, weaving up the side of a hill.
Roads, on the other hand, cut through a landscape. They carve the most direct path from point A to point B, ignoring the contours of the land, forcing our efficiency over top or through it.
Wendell Berry draws out this distinction as he describes our modern disconnect from the land. Much like adding a frame removes us from our surroundings, experiencing the land from a highway distances us from the land we’re driving across.
In Patagonia’s Treeline (quoted for a second time… It’s true, I love this film), the Japanese snowsurfer speaks of his sport in terms of conversation with the land.
It’s fun because you ride while conversing with the terrain.
If you’ve ever ridden fresh powder on a big snow day, you know this feeling. There’s none like it. Rather than view a mountain from your car window or some scenic overlook, you feel each rise and fall of the land, paying attention to each chute and ledge.
Watch this scene from Treeline below.
Almost makes you look forward to winter again, doesn’t it? Almost.
Connecting with the land seems to stir intimate language from those who have grown to love it. Wendell Berry, a farmer with a close connection with his land, uses these words in his poem, Sabbaths 1990 III:
Remember the small secret creases of the earth.
Can you feel the intimacy in his language? This is someone who’s walked the hills, plowed his fields, and has grown fond of the land. These are the words I carry with me whenever I find a trail to explore.
Though we could live our entire modern lives on asphalt, concrete and floors made by human hands, we keep looking for ways to connect with the land. We seem to have a need to get our hands and feet dirty. From growing vegetables in a backyard garden to running trails, we have a natural desire to connect with this land which sustains us. The land is as much a part of us as our every breath.
I’ve found trail-running to be an exercise in connection. Moving over the land, feeling every crease of the earth, breathing deeply of the forest-filtered air, smelling the decaying vegetation (and soon, the growth of new life), it’s invigorating and essential.
If you’d like to re-connect with the land, find a trail. Start a conversation.