On the way down, the question briefly arose whether the stones which make up the path were brought in by by the trail clearers or instead merely underground and revealed by subsequent erosion. It was a question to which we returned no few times in that week and which weighed upon us, most often while descending. I pulled my companion to one side to examine more closely the moss carpet extending out in all directions through the underbrush. I had read that the northern woods were, even in dry periods, damp through and through, and in the moss I found something in the way of proof.
Looking up the slope, I picked out the runnel by which the water collected above this patch, pooling and entering the green coating a drop at a time. From there, the drop filtered through the moss network over the course of I know not how many days. In places, the carpet seems uneven, and I saw drops form and fall onto the next stretch below and there soak in. In the end, the water reaches the moss edge bordering the path and, pooling within much as it first did without, only escapes with a final drop to the streamlet running concurrently with the path. I cannot help but think that, while not purified, the water will have, in its transit, taken on something of the moss’ slow-motion relentlessness.
My walks are often punctuated with small activities with which to busy myself, and this hike was true to form. When not merely watching, I took a stick in hand, stripped the twigs from its length and checked its suitability as a walking staff: height, spring, forks, species, ease of the cut. At times, I took from the dead wood at the forest edges; at others, I sought among the branches overhead for a green limb, twisted or broken by wind or a fall. These searches led, on occasion, to my carving a few runes in a tree before giving up, whether from the lack of purpose or uncertainty as to the message that it might leave. Elsewhere, I felt less concerned by this uncertainty and, at the edge of one escarpment, piled twigs about one another, a few leaves at their center, and left this small structure, as if to convey via ambiguous form the unambiguous message that a human had this way passed.
Farther on, though still within the park’s bounds, my companion and I set out for a cave, of sorts, a little off the road. The path proved less trying than the ridge trail before, which led my thoughts in turn to the necessity of different materials for different surroundings. Indeed, when first making these paths, there can be thought of little else: through where will the path lead and from what I am to make it? The examples might be multiplied to infinity, but consider only these few: the level forest path of beaten earth; the hill path of packed-earth steps given shape by cut logs; the makeshift stair climbing a steep slope, the stones stacked upon themselves; the climb across a high rock scramble or face, facilitated by ropes, rails, rungs; the stream crossing with a bridge of logs held together by a few shanks. In each of these do we find distinct approaches to the surroundings and materials at hand.
I have an inkling that much the same can be said for thought. For, when approaching new fields of inquiry, thought faces much the same challenges as trailmakers to determine the lay of the land, where best to cut through, and of what different techniques, resources and materials to avail themselves in the trailmaking. Though rough, perhaps cursory, the first paths through a new wilderness meet with considerable enthusiasm from fellow adventurers. Soon, new auxiliary paths come to link once unknown path with unknown path, unknown with known, even known with known, such that from little an entire network has sprung up. Yet, in time, these unknown paths become as familiar as their forebears. They require little more than maintenance, in part assured by the endless passing of the masses. So it is that the trailmakers move on to new challenges, new paths, ever in search of the new. Making paths is not for everyone, and it might prove to our credit to recognize this.
I was still attempting to work out how to translate the high rock scramble, complete with ropes, rails and rungs, into the realm of thought, that is to find a system of thought which reproduced this experience in some way, when we came at last to a gorge, some mile in length, at the base of a granite outcropping looming. Its water eats away at the outcropping, as does the freeze and thaw cycle. Across its face, I could track the advancing fractures, the convergence of which had prompted one section to fall away entirely into the gorge below, leaving a squareish opening into the rock face and which rather gave off the appearance of a cave. So it was that we found ourselves before the promised Moose Cave, its namesake having disappeared with the rock, a simultaneous victim to the fracture and the fall. Alone, we inspected the negative mass as the water thundered on below.