Nature is a vast mystery to be explored. Humans have been interacting with nature for quite some time, and over the years they have had the opportunity to shape it to some extent. When you go on a hike, what you are looking at might be more significant than you’d think.
Bent trees, for example, can be historical landmarks. Some trees grow with a curve for natural reasons, but others have been touched by the human hand. These trees were once signs that were vital to the people who lived nearby.
The Native American people used natural signifiers to indicate the best path around obstacles such as streams, cliffs, and blockages. One such sign was the bent tree.
Around 200 years ago, the bent trees you might find today were saplings. The Native Americans tied the tree trunks down with straps. When kept there over long periods of time, this process caused the trees to grow with permanent bends near their trunks.
These trees served as trail markers, and being able to clearly recognize them was essential to navigating the landscape. “Having the knowledge of these trail trees could mean the difference between life and death, between eating and starving, between crossing the river correctly or incorrectly,” explains Dennis Downes, an investigator who spent almost three decades studying the trees.
Of course these human-modified trees can be mixed in with the naturally curved ones, but there is a way to tell if one of these marker trees are in your path. If you look closely you will see a notch at the bend of a tree that has been bent by humans. The straps often leave scars in the trunks of the trees, passing subtle hints to the adventurers about which way to go.
You may even come across a large group of trees bent in this way. Sometimes, when a trail needed to be very carefully followed, the Native Americans would mark multiple trees in a single area. This way there could be no confusion about which way to go.
If you are out hiking in the woods, you might stumble across these magnificent landmarks without ever recognizing them. Because of their similarity to naturally bent trees, these markings are often overlooked. And since they are not specifically protected, many trees can fall prey to land development.
These trees won’t be around forever, so the best time to look for them is now. “Because trail trees are roughly 150 to 200 years old, many of them won’t be with us for very much longer,” shares American Forests. “We may still be able to see this original roadmap of our country, but the window to do so is closing.”
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These unique trees can be found all across the country. Organizations such as Mountain Stewards are working to map out identified marker trees so that explorers can see them before they’re gone.
Nature is one great puzzle to be discovered. It seems that no matter how much we know of the world around us, new secrets are constantly lurking beneath the surface. These specially marked trees are yet another sign that there is much more to this place than meets the eye.
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