Field Notes

THE TRAIL BUILDER

A good day the woods

Illustration by Morgan Krieg

 

BY REBECCA STORM GRANDE

E yes blinking open to an early Montana dawn, the trail builder stretches awake and considers his weighty but simple mission of the day, to clear a path through the forest.

Calloused hands fill a backpack with care. It holds all the supplies needed, a nutritious lunch to fuel the brain and body, layers to keep sunburn and insect bites at bay, and water to drink. He loads a mountain bike onto the truck’s sun-bleached tailgate pad and kisses his girlfriend and dog goodbye.

Traveling down a dirt road until the trailhead emerges, he parks and then walks, step by step, analyzing the previous day’s work, taking stock of each angle and curve. Recent rainfall gives the air a mossy fragrance and the trail builder a new insight, puddles show where the trail needs adjustment. Where the path arcs wide, the rustling branches reveal a first glimpse of the cold machine.

From up in the operator’s seat, the trail builder is both beckoned and warned by the obstacles that lie ahead. He relishes the peace of the forest for another moment before turning the ignition and disrupting the silence with engine thunder. Metal claws grasp at the first layer of ground cover. Roots dangle and clumps of soil swing free. He nestles the displaced plants into the surrounding forest floor, giving the patch a chance of reintegration. A rhythm flows through the trail builder’s hands, manipulating the machine with control and intention.

Further drawn into daydreams with each foot gained, the trail builder’s mind dances with visions of the good times to come on this unearthed stretch of soil. Soon, below the same canopy of leaves, bikes will soar around the carefully shaped berms, hikers will chatter with the birdsong, and dogs will live out their wolf fantasies.

The trail builder’s mind dances with visions of the good times to come on this unearthed stretch of soil.

Evening sunshine beams through the tree trunks, a bright alarm signaling the end to the trail builder’s work day. He shuts off the machine’s engine, gathers his belongings, and reverses his journey back to the parking lot. After swapping gear, the trail builder transforms into a mountain biker. With confident pedaling, the creator of the trail tests it out, learning more about the freshly forged path with every lap. After his mind is emptied and body is exercised, it’s time to head home.

Hungry for dinner and the comfort of family, the trail builder returns to his resting place.

Through the twilight of a Montana sunset, he reminisces about the day and considers his plans for tomorrow. The satisfied trail builder settles into bed, eager to do it again, and again, all for the joy of building a trail.

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