On Trails: An Exploration

On Trails: An Exploration In , While Thru Hiking The Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor Began To Wonder About The Paths That Lie Beneath Our Feet How Do They Form Why Do Some Improve Over Time While Others Fade What Makes Us Follow Or Strike Off On Our Own Over The Course Of The Next Seven Years, Moor Traveled The Globe, Exploring Trails Of All Kinds, From The Miniscule To The Massive He Learned The Tricks Of Master Trail Builders, Hunted Down Long Lost Cherokee Trails, And Traced The Origins Of Our Road Networks And The Internet In Each Chapter, Moor Interweaves His Adventures With Findings From Science, History, Philosophy, And Nature Writing Combining The Nomadic Joys Of Peter Matthiessen With The Eclectic Wisdom Of Lewis Hyde S The GiftThroughout, Moor Reveals How This Single Topic The Oft Overlooked Trail Sheds New Light On A Wealth Of Age Old Questions How Does Order Emerge Out Of Chaos How Did Animals First Crawl Forth From The Seas And Spread Across Continents How Has Humanity S Relationship With Nature And Technology Shaped World Around Us And, Ultimately, How Does Each Of Us Pick A Path Through Life Moor Has The Essayist S Gift For Making New Connections, The Adventurer S Love For Paths Untaken, And The Philosopher S Knack For Asking Big Questions With A Breathtaking Arc That Spans From The Dawn Of Animal Life To The Digital Era, On Trails Is A Book That Makes Us See Our World, Our History, Our Species, And Our Ways Of Life Anew

Robert Moor has written for Harper s, n 1, New York, and GQ, among other publications A recipient of the Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, he has won multiple awards for his nonfiction writing He lives in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.

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  • Hardcover
  • 352 pages
  • On Trails: An Exploration
  • Robert Moor
  • English
  • 09 December 2017
  • 9781476739212

10 thoughts on “On Trails: An Exploration

  1. says:

    This book is endlessly fascinating, but don t expect it to follow a straight line Instead, it pursues its own meandering road.When Robert Moor hiked the Appalachian Trail back in 2009, he became interested in the history of the trail itself, and in all other kinds of trails humans follow He wondered why we like trails, why we build so many of them, and why some paths survive and others don t After a lot of research and a fair amount of hiking, he arrived at this book, which isn t really a hiking memoir as I mistakenly thought it was but of a rambling, Malcolm Gladwell esque work of nonfiction that includes discussions on nature, science, technology, history and even philosophy.I began to search for the deeper meaning of trails I spent years looking for answers, which led me to yet bigger questions Why did animal life begin to move in the first place How does any creature start to make sense of the world Why do some individuals lead and others follow How did we humans come to mold our planet into its current shape Piece by piece, I began to cobble together a panoramic view of how pathways act as an essential guiding force on this planet on every scale of life, from microscopic cells to herds of elephants, creatures can be found relying on trails to reduce an overwhelming array of options to a single expeditious route Without trails, we would be lost.After mulling over this book for several days, I ve decided it s impossible to describe, and Gladwellian is as close as I can get Truly this is an interesting book, and I enjoyed it, even though it wasn t what I expected Recommended for readers who like a book with a potpourri of subjects Note To be clear, Gladwell esque is meant to be a compliment If you are unfamiliar with his work, Malcolm Gladwell writes for The New Yorker magazine and he also has several bestselling books, which usually combine a variety of topics under one general theme, such as underdogs or trends I ve enjoyed most of his books and would recommend them. Interesting Quotes I learned that the soul of a trail its trail ness is not bound up in dirt and rocks it is immaterial, evanescent, as fluid as air The essence lies in its function how it continuously evolves to serve the needs of its users We tend to glorify trailblazers those hardy souls who strike out across uncharted territory, both figurative and physical but followers play an equally important role in creating a trail They shave off unnecessary bends and brush away obstructions, improving the trail with each trip It is thanks to the actions of these walkers that the trail becomes, in the words of Wendell Berry, the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place In bewildering times when all the old ways seem to be dissolving into mire it serves us well to turn our eyes earthward and study the oft overlooked wisdom beneath our feet There is a simple reason why we find the image of circling ants or caterpillars so troubling The first instinct of humans who are lost in the wilderness is to cling to any trail they find and never leave it Indeed, authorities on wilderness survival commonly recommend this tactic When you find a trail stay on it, declares a backpacking guide published by the U.S Forest Service, in a section titled If You Get Lost A trail, the naturalist Ernest Ingersoll once wrote, is a happy promise to the anxious heart that you are going somewhere, and are not aimlessly wandering in a circle A circular trial, then, is a cruel trick, a breach of logic, almost a kind of black magic Old age brings with it another kind of liberation freedom from the doubt, anger, and restlessness of youth The old can look back and see their decisions as a single concatenation, sheared of all the ghostly, untaken routes Heidegger, a forest dwelling philosopher enchanted with the earthy wisdom of the Feldweg field path and the Holzweg wood path , discussed his life in this manner Three years before his death, he wrote to his friend Hannah Arendt Looking back over the whole path, it becomes possible to see that the walk through the field of paths is guided by an invisible hand, and that essentially one ads little to it But he was able to make that judgment only with the benefit of hindsight Fate is an optical illusion From the vantage of a thirty year old like me, life s path still bristles with spur trails and possible dead ends And so we return, once again, to the essential question How do we select a path through life Which turns should we take To what end We are born to wander through a chaos field And yet we do not become hopelessly lost, because each walker who comes before us leaves behind a trace for us to follow The full span of trail making on earth, in its broadest sense all the walks, all the stories, all the experiments, all the networks can be seen as part of a great communal yearning to find better, longer lasting, supple ways of sharing wisdom and preserving it for the future.

  2. says:

    Man is built to walk Actually, man is built to jog, slowly, speaking from a physiological point of view However you ambulate, our bones and muscles are constructed to move and keep moving Sedentary life is no life at all he says while sitting in a chair, typing up this review I love to walk If you have been reading my reviews or blog for long enough, you ll know that This is part of the reason I was so worried when I blew my back out in late 2014 and was so relieved when my surgery in 2015 was largely successful The thought of not being able to walk, for me, makes me almost stop breathing But Moor is not so concerned with the act of walking itself He is concerned with what it is we walk on, paths and trails, and how they are formed and, sometimes, conceived and maintained He starts with the first trails, traces, really, to be technically correct trails are, by definition, a place where than one organism has trodden the same path or where one has traveled repeatedly , made by strange part plant, part animal organisms during the Ediacaran period, a time that I did not even know existed when I began the book These bizarre, almost alien life forms surely they would seem alien in the current geological age the descriptions given to these creatures made me think that H.P Lovecraft might have been revealing in his fiction than we could have known before the discovery of these weird critters left traces in mud that petrified some 500 million years ago Their efforts were spastic, halting, and meandering, but they re the oldest traces we can find of self propelled mobility.From this beginning, you might think that this book then goes through subsequent eras of trail building and use, finally reaching to the modern age.You d be wrong.This book meanders And it meanders wildly Personally, I liked that aspect of it, but if you re looking for a concise history of trails from Point A to Point B, this is not that book If you re looking for a leisurely wandering through not only the history of trails, but across disciplines such as history, environmental science, technology, and anthropology, then Moor s On Trails is for you Like any trail, it s not perfect, and the author acknowledges that giving his personal E mail address near the end in order to receive readers feedback, which I think is awesome Nor is it completely comprehensive But like any good trail that you might walk, there is really too much to gather in over the course of one journey I ll be revisiting this one from time to time and am curious to see how future revisions differ from this initial printing.That stated, there were a few highlights that I found intriguing, sometimes compelling Please excuse my meandering as I point them out, in no particular order Believe it or not, Moor is unafraid to dive into the depths of the philosophy of science Though this is of a side trail of the work, rather than a full on excursion, he points out some interesting thoughts, particularly those coming from a scientist acquaintance of his Moor had asked him about the intentional falsification of data by some scientists, some of whom extend bold conjectures in order to claim scientific territory Apparently it is not out of the ordinary for scientists to extrapolate, from their limited data, views that reach for the truth Moor, in speaking with his friend, called this practice into question The response is intriguing Karl Popper would have said that astrophysics and paleontology are not real science because you can t go out and sample it I think absolutely the opposite I think this is actually where science is It s trying to guess what lies over the hill and map terra incognita When people come in and colonize, that s just technology.For behaviorists, chapter 2 is a must read about individual agency vis a vis the group hive mind, feedback loops, and amplification mechanisms in the formation of trails It is a great analysis of group and individual behavior Kudos must be given to Moor for not only collating so much theoretical information, but for living his research For a short time, he worked as a shepherd with a Navajo couple who spoke no English for a number of weeks, learning about herding and trails or, properly, trying to keep his flock on the trails, mostly unsuccessfully This section was cringe inducing in its awkward hilarity I felt sorry for Moor, who admits he didn t have a clue what he was doing Luckily for him, none of his flock became casualties as a direct result of his ignorance a miracle, given the mis steps he made One thing that comes up again and again in this book is the fact that members of western society have a number of misconceptions about cultures and history I was disabused of a few notions the idea that America was truly wild when Europeans invaded Native Americans actually carefully groomed and managed their lands, particularly hunting lands within the forests of the Eastern seaboard, using strategic burning in particular to clear areas of underbrush and mosquitoes , the mistaken idea that Native American trails would, of course, take the path of least resistance they did not A trail might go to great lengths to avoid enemy territory or detour to visit kinfolk it might gravitate to sacred sites, or bend around haunted ones , and the fact that modern hunting and fishing regulations were primarily an organic outgrowth of conservation efforts actually, most of them come from medieval English laws meant to protect the local noble s hunting grounds from pesky peasants.Even the very idea that Wilderness is something that pre exists at all is a judgement error, or at least an error in perspective, according to Moor It may sound strange even sacrilegious to some, but in a very real way, wilderness is a human creation We create it in the same sense that we create trails we do not crate the soil or the plants, the geology or the topology although we can, and do, shift these things Instead, we delineate the place, by defining its boundaries, its meaning, and its use.The author actually does an excellent job of presenting and validating this argument through numerous examples, many associated with the attempted expansion of the Appalachian Trail to the International Appalachian Trail extending across Greenland to Scotland to Spain and even to Morocco Far from being a natural phenomenon, trails are technology that define and delineate wilderness, rather than cutting through it.Moor gets even further off the path of expected subject matter for this book when he delves into the ways that technology shapes the land around us and forces us to walk on trails that are dictated by the advance of technology He does not pass a value judgement on this progression, necessarily In large part, the continued interest in hiking seems to stem from a desire to cut through the techscape to get to some natural substratum to borrow MacKaye s phrase, to see the primeval influence beneath the machine influence But ironically, the act of hiking is also dependent on technology Many of the earliest hikers relied on trains and automobiles to reach the mountains Today, some forms of technology like cell phones or ATVs are considered obnoxious, while others like water purifiers, camp stoves, and GPS locators are excused In either case, technology inexorably trickles into the wild, allowing hikers to reach new lands, travel in new ways, think in new terms, and optimize to new values.This melding of technology and the wild is, well, natural There is no natural barrier between civilization and wilderness This exclusivity is created in our own minds Yes, there are some areas left natural than others, but much of the separation is a mental construct Moor relates the following about Eberhart, a legendary hiker that he spent some time walking with along highways and through wilderness areas The problem, Eberhart said, was that hikers tended to divide their lives into compartments wilderness over here, civilization over there The walls that exist between each of these compartments are not there naturally, he said We create them The guy that has to stand there and look at Mount Olympus to find peace and quiet and solitude and meaning life has escaped him totally Because it s down there in Seattle, too,on a damn downtown street I ve tried to break those walls down and de compartmentalize my life so that I can find just as much peace and joy in that damned homebound rush hour traffic that we were walking through yesterday The irony of me, a walker, sitting here at a computer typing up a review about a physical book I read I do so prefer physical books as artifacts to e books, though I ve read both because of my love for being out in nature is not lost on me The irony of you, reading this entry about a book on walking, from the comfort of your home or library or Starbucks or wherever you are I m guessing you are not outside walking at the moment, but I could be wrong shouldn t be lost on you, either

  3. says:

    This wide ranging study examines many aspects and types of trail making Along the way Moor thru hikes the Appalachian Trail, herds sheep in Arizona, observes elephants, follows ancient Native American paths on deer hunting vigils, and travels to Morocco to scope out new sections for the International Appalachian Trail At times I had trouble seeing the connections between all the disparate elements everything from ant behavior to Cherokee language and the Internet Moor tries for an overarching message about how we shape the earth and whether we re following others or making our own way, but from chapter to chapter that scope is rather lost Nonetheless, he writes very well and incorporates his research carefully.

  4. says:

    Complete freedom is not what a trail offers Quite the opposite a trail is a tactful reduction of options Moor states in the very first chapter that this book is not a ladder and does not lead up to any sort of conclusion, but like the trail, it winds and meanders By and large, the wandering on this book trail was great fun Moor recounting his through hike on the Appalachian Trail although this is of a stage setter, it is definitely not the theme of the book like A Walk in the Woods Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail , shepherding Navajo churro sheep in the southwest, following animal tracks and trails in Alabama, Cherokee footpaths in North Carolina, and fossilized trails left by long extinct sea animals in Newfoundland he did a lot of walking in this book A few of the story sections seemed keeping with trail hiking parlance in the weeds and off track for me, but Moor circles back to the theme eventually and brings you back to the trail safe and sound.4.5 stars I really appreciated his subject matter and his overall style Some quotes that I liked and transcribed from the audio Re Cherokee language and its tie to the land Belt s upbringing made him acutely aware of the ties between geography and language the landscape is encoded into the language Cherokee syntax and diction are mountainous The language has several fine grained descriptions for different kinds of hills Suffixes can be appended to nouns to indicate whether it is uphill or downhill from the speaker Cultural institutions that European cultures have long relied on to perpetuate knowledge, mainly an enormous and intricately organized corpora of texts can not properly acknowledge a form of knowledge that is orally transmitted and terrestrially encoded Walking creates trails Trails, in turn, shape landscapes, and over time, landscapes serve as archives of communal knowledge and symbolic meaning Re Benton MacKaye, the innovator behind the Appalachian Trail He railed against the lolly poppidness of the jazz loving, picnic eating city dwellers, and he contrasted these human jellyfish with the strong, tough, wilderness saavy proletariat his trail would attract And now I come straight to the point of the philosophy of thru trails MacKaye concluded, It is to organize a Barbarian invasion It is a counter movement to the metropolitan invasion

  5. says:

    Yazmak istedi im gibi bir yorum yazabilece ime inanmad m i in, imdilik, yazmak istemedi im gibi bir yorum yaz yorum Bence kesinlikle ilham verici ve yerli yersiz insan n akl na gelip d nd recek bir ke if s reci oldu evremdeki herkesin eline kitab tutu turup, Bak Bak ne diyor diyip durdum Do a yaban insan vah i evcil hayvan iz yol y r mek kar ncalar ve filler ve biz ve birka salyangoz ve bir s r soru i areti Belki size de ilham verir Belki kitapla deli gibi kavga edersiniz, ama bence bir eyleri harekete ge irme g c oldu u kesin.

  6. says:

    My incentive in reading Moor s On Trails is my own enjoyment of hiking The book delivers so much than an examination of walking in the woods, though Moor is a hiker himself, what he calls a thru hiker, one who hikes long distances over established trails of great length He describes some of his own experiences in spending 5 months hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from its beginning in Georgia to the ending on Maine s Mount Katahdin Moor writes interestingly on why people hike and what they get from it Most of the 2d half is taken up with an exploration his word from the title, appropriate than meditation of hiking itself and the love of some people for extended hikes like the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Great Divide Trail He understands those who love sometimes need to get out of their everyday lives and onto a trail which leads them into whatever nature, vision of wilderness, discipline, or solitude they seek For me, the book became stronger and stronger as I read Moor writes quite well and intelligently, so he moves eloquently through such topics as humanity s historical relation to wilderness and the impact of our newer technologies on hiking culture By the end of the book what he s learned from a couple of his heroes, Thoreau and the Chinese poet hermit Han Shan, has caused him to become philosophical The hiking trail, he writes, is merely one of the paths our lives take He considers walking a trail to be an untethered state He agrees with Thoreau that walking the woods is the ultimate freedom In describing how the hiker pares down what he carries from his life in the greater society, he writes, In walking, we acquire of less As I say, the book delivers a lot Moor discusses not only trails like the Appalachian Trail and its history but the forerunners of every modern trail, animal trails even fossilized ones and Indian trails Because trails are always the lines of least resistance used by moving animals and later followed by Indians, most of our modern highway system has paved them over in using the same routes He spends time in explaining how the internet is also a trail I was aware of the extension of the Appalachian Trail into Canada but didn t know that it d recently been extended to even vault the Atlantic by engineering trails through the same Appalachian geology existing in Iceland, Spain, and Morocco Moor s account of his part in mapping the new end of the trail in Morocco is fascinating There s much to this interesting book the time he spent among Navajo shepherds studying how sheep create trails, the complexity of insect trails There s something to be found here by everyone, especially by those who like to follow trails in the woods.

  7. says:

    Shiiii I picked up this book because I figured it was about hiking, and I was in a dope bookstore that I wanted to support Best of both worlds I got waaaay from this book than I was expecting It was an incredible exploration straight from day 0 of trails ediacaran trails , to ants, to animal s migratory paths, to first nation s paths to wow wow This was a delicious read.

  8. says:

    I have a feeling I m going to love this book Note to self read this on next hiking trip.

  9. says:

    Moor is a long distance walker, he took five months completing the Appalachian Trail, but rather than just the exhilaration in completing this 2190 mile journey he realised that he now had questions about just why we create trails In exploring this phenomena he is shown some of the oldest fossil trails, he learns how and why animals do the same thing, from ants that use pheromones to guide others from the nest to sources of food He has a go a shepherding to see how sheep make trails, and manages to mislay a complete flock in his first attempt He joins Native Americans to see the trails in their culture and perches in a tree with Larry Benoit to gain an insight into the mind of a hunter following deer trails in a forest He finds out how a new trail is created when he joins a renowned trail builder in Tennessee making pathways with a quad bike He is asked to join the International Appalachian Trail, what will be the world s longest footpath, spanning from Alabama to Morocco, and spends some time walking some of what could be the Moroccan section In the final part of the book, he catches up with the Nimblewill Nomad, M.J Eberhart He is somewhat of a legend, as he has walked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail around 34,000 miles in total He could be described as eccentric too, having had all his toenails removed and passed on most of his possessions bar a truck and a couple of boxes of sentimental stuff Moor joins him for a few days and walks with him from Winnie along the roads of Texas.Walking creates trails Trails, in turn, shape landscapesMoor has tremendous potential as an author but I am not entirely sure if this is a travel book, a walking book, a book on the natural world or book on the deeper philosophy on the process of placing one foot in front of another That said, it is an eloquent set of essays and stories about the pleasures of walking along the great trails of the world Liked the piece about technology too, it makes a change to have someone say that it can have its place, rather than being one of those who considers the mix of technology and nature to be abhorrent It is quite American centric, though he does venture overseas at times, but its wide ranging scope means that it is not quite as focused as it could be hence I have only given it three stars However, I really liked this, as he has been bold enough to take a step off the well trodden path for the wider view For those with and interest in walking, this should be on your to read list.

  10. says:

    Ranks with the likes of Annie Dillard and Edward Abbey, an important book for the modern nature reader Read my review in Chicago Review of Books.

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