Encounter with Native American trail markers

In our modern world, we always move from one place to another. We use road signs, maps, and even GPS devices to help us get to our destinations. Older travelers often don’t use such sophisticated ways to get directions. Seniors like me still use paper maps or ask someone for directions.

But how do you navigate from A to B in the forest? It’s very easy to get lost, especially since there are far fewer fancy technologies available to navigate through. Even a basic compass can be difficult to use. Unless you are walking on designated and worn trails in the park that can easily guide you to and from where you started, you will need to have an exceptionally good memory to remember distances and directions. But, if you were blindfolded and dropped into a dense forest, it might be impossible to return to civilization.

Centuries ago, Native Americans created a basic system using trees to navigate forests. Have you ever taken a long walk through the forests of the United States and seen old trees that are curved strangely? Native Americans tipped saplings towards directions to help other Native American tribes find important landmarks. These “Indian trail signs,” also known as “Indian trail markers,” pointed other natives to “rest stops.” However, the native travelers probably did not know specifically what these bent trees were pointing to, except that they signified important places such as acquiring water, food, rocks for tool making, as well as locating cemeteries and areas where other native tribes lived.

The first natives took saplings made of oak, maple, and elm, and bent them until the tops were close to the ground. Over time, as these trees grew very large, they transformed into strange and crooked shapes. Instead of growing upwards, from a meter and a half, they bent sharply at right angles, parallel to the ground. Then they turned sharply upward. This form of such a tree appears to zigzag. The bent area between the angle and the straight part that grew upward, “pointed” to important destinations.

Over the past hundred years, special tree nets have been found in forests, parks, and private properties across the country. By 2013, more than 2,000 trees had been located in 40 states. Also, the search for more continues. However, they are being cut down as more forests are cut down for modern development, but historians and nature conservationists struggle to preserve these trees as historical natural landmarks. With continued exploration, there is little doubt that many more trail trees can be found.

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