Do you ever hike, walk or jog in our nearby parks? The walking paths in our city and township parks are marked with highly visible signs leading the walkers or joggers along to the next sections of the paths. The maintained hiking trails through our state parks are marked less garishly with signage that blends better with the scenery. These trails are still fairly easy to follow if you watch for the signs. When hiking through long stretches of open country on minimally maintained trails, one must know what trail markers to look for. If blazes are missed, hikers can easily wander off the trail and become lost.
On our way to church one Sunday morning, I noticed a small, squiggly white line that suddenly appeared on the pavement, and ran in front of us all the way down the hill into town. The line became more pronounced the further we went. I pondered the possible source of the squiggly line. I wondered if paint spilled in the bed of a pick-up truck. The paint probably dribbled out of the tailgate and formed a trail for us to follow. I guessed correctly. As we turned onto North Street, the line terminated at a white spot that occupied most of a parking space in front of a building that was being renovated.
Once, while on patrol with the Coast Guard, I spotted an oil trail on the water as we sailed through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. We took samples and determined it to be diesel fuel. We planned a search and launched our helicopter. The pilot flew the helicopter close to the water, following the trail until he located the oil’s source; a fishing vessel had run aground. Their fuel was leaking out, and they were taking on water. Dewatering pumps drained their batteries, and they were unable to radio for help. However, their fuel trail led us to them.
As we go through life, we leave trails that others can follow, whether we intend to or not. Scholars leave paper trails made of studies, theses and books. The trails of investors are strewn with “buy” and “sell” slips, bank statements and financial reports. Teachers leave trails of students. Actors leave trails of dialogue for others to quote. The fickle in love leave trails of broken hearts. Those with wicked tempers and bad behavior often leave trails of destruction.
I’m leaving trails of my own. They aren’t spilled paint or leaked fuel, but they are just as visible. Are they just as indelible or toxic? I don’t know. I’d like to think they are good trails – the well marked paths along the “better way”. If I’m honest, I’ll have to admit not all my trails are well blazed, or easy, or even good. There are probably reasons for the kinds of trails I’ve left – some excusable, some not so much. Being aware of my trails, and knowing that others may follow after me should be suitable admonishment to remind me that the paths ahead of me become the trails behind me. I want to leave good trails and help others to do the same.
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