My childhood ramblings in the hills of West Virginia instilled in me the joy of hiking. Grandpa Miller’s place near Harrison offered challenging paths, and he always found time to lead the column into the woods as I brandished my walking stick and tried to keep up. My home on Angel Fork, surrounded by woods that were not posted back then against trespassing, gave ample opportunity to explore. Today I often need to enjoy solitude in nature and focus on my thoughts rather than finding or hacking my way. A blazed trail in a state park or forest becomes the right choice.
Marking trails is a practice as old as man. American Indians often bent tree saplings into strange shapes to provide direction. Pioneers chopped directional notations with their axes. Today’s trailblazers usually take care not to damage the trees, but in the state park near my home in North Carolina trails are marked with a circle, triangle or square of plastic nailed into the tree. Ouch.
In the national forests the blazes are spray painted squares 2”x6” or nearly the size of a dollar bill. Markings are usually placed on trees and spaced so that no two are visible at the same moment. On sections of the Appalachian Trail I’ve walked the blazes may appear on rocks or 4”x4” posts when no suitable tree is present. The outbound and inbound blazes of a trail should not appear on the same tree in case a storm removes the tree.
Shawn and I recently traveled to Pisgah National Forest. We researched some doable hikes (for people at our stage of life and fitness), grabbed general directions from a website, and jumped in the car. I had concluded that the stomach-churning ride up the narrow road would never end when Shawn spoke the hopeful words, “There it is!” I steered into the dirt pull-off, and we set out on foot.
A short hike led us up Max Patch Mountain to join the Appalachian Trail (AT). Our connecting trail was well-marked with blue blazes and reminded me of many of the dirt roads I traversed as a boy. At the intersection with the AT (white blazes) we made a right turn (southbound as opposed to northbound, the two directional choices on the AT) and marched upward to the peak called Max Patch Bald (elevation 4629’).
Our day offered clear skies allowing us to see for miles. What a view! I held my breath during a slow 360 of the panorama replete with its mountain majesty. I cannot imagine what heaven will be like as I consider what God did in only six days.
A second hike required a bit more effort to access the trail. The gate into the US Forestry recreation area was closed for the season, but locals familiar with the accepted customs instructed us to park out of the way and enjoy our hike. We geared up, bypassed the barricade and marched forward to find the Spring Creek Nature Trail.
Our chosen path included brilliant yellow blazes, and I knew we could follow these out into the wilderness and either complete the loop or reverse course to return if needed.
Spring Creek flows north to the French Broad River at Hot Springs, North Carolina. Spring Creek is the name, but its character is more like a river.
Not since I hiked along the Dosewallips River in Washington have I seen such pristine rapids and clear water. We had chosen our trek wisely. Although we were navigating unfamiliar sections of a forest we had only to follow the blazes left behind by someone who was familiar with the terrain.
Life is a series of choices and often we ache to peek at the answers in the back of the book. Did I choose the correct fork? Are there signs I am on the right path? Should I back up and try again? Who can I ask for directions?
I’m not implying the decisions are easy, but I have learned that God provided His Word for my benefit in uncertain times as well as in those times when I am confident of my steps. I simply have to read it. Digest it. Meditate on it. Make it a regular and indispensable part of my life. God has left us adequate blazes to guide our trek if we but pay attention. Here’s a sampling from the Psalms of God’s promises to guide us …
For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. Psalm 31:3
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. Psalm 37:23
With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Psalm 73:24
Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 134:10
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