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On Trails: An Exploration On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
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On Trails Quotes Showing 1-30 of 34
“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.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“In walking, we acquire more of less.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“We move through this world on paths laid down long before we are born.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“When I was younger I used to see the earth as a fundamentally stable and serene place, possessed of a delicate, nearly divine balance, which humans had somehow managed to upset. But as I studied trails more closely, this fantasy gradually evaporated. I now see the earth as the collaborative artwork of trillions of sculptors, large and small. Sheep, humans, elephants, ants: each of us alters the world in our passage. When we build hives or nests, mud huts or concrete towers, we re-sculpt the contours of the planet. When we eat, we convert living matter into waste. And when we walk, we create trails. The question we must ask ourselves is not whether we should shape the earth, but how.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“From trains to automobiles to airplanes, each time the speed of connection quickens, travelers have expressed a sense of growing alienation from the land blurring past our windows. In the same vein, many people currently worry that digital technology is making us less connected to the people and things in our immediate environment.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“There are, it is often said by the more ecumenical prophets, many paths up the mountain. So long as it helps a person navigate the world and seek out what is good, a path, by definition, has value.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Complete freedom is not what a trail offers. Quite the opposite; a trail is a tactful reduction of options.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Back home, Huxley drew from this experience to compose a series of audacious attacks against the Romantic love of wilderness. The worship of nature, he wrote, is "a modern, artificial, and somewhat precarious invention of refined minds." Byron and Wordsworth could only rhapsodize about their love of nature because the English countryside had already been "enslaved to man." In the tropics, he observed, where forests dripped with venom and vines, Romantic poets were notably absent. Tropical peoples knew something Englishmen didn't. "Nature," Huxley wrote, "is always alien and inhuman, and occasionally diabolic." And he meant always: Even in the gentle woods of Westermain, the Romantics were naive in assuming that the environment was humane, that it would not callously snuff out their lives with a bolt of lightning or a sudden cold snap. After three days amid the Tuckamore, I was inclined to agree.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“In this techscape, new values also emerge—often made up of old words with new connotations: automatic, digital, mobile, wireless, frictionless, smart—and new technology adapts to those values. The current meaning of the word wilderness, one could argue, emerged directly from the techscape of industrialism, just as the current meaning of the word network emerged from the world of telecommunications. With the advent of industrial technology we began to see wilderness less as a landscape devoid of agriculture and more as a landscape free from technology—and thus the wild went from being a wasteland to a refuge.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Even a man as wilderness-averse as Aldous Huxley came to understand that “a man misses something by not establishing a participative and living relationship with the non-human world of animals and plants, landscapes and stars and seasons. By failing to be, vicariously, the not-self, he fails to be completely himself.” This is the most succinct definition of the wilderness I have found: the not-self. There, in the one place we have not remolded in our image, a very deep and ancient form of wisdom can be found. “At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman,” wrote Albert Camus.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“I was discovering that this process works both ways: a journey is never simply the act of gaining a new perspective, but also the experience of being newly seen.
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“The foraging technique of these caterpillars is remarkably simple, even idiotic, but it works. The fail-safe, Despland explained, is that hunger induces restlessness, which eventually compels them to abandon the well-worn trails and go looking for something else. “The leaders tend to be the hungry ones,” she explained. “Because they’re the ones who are willing to pay the cost.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“What unites the wisest trails, I have found, is a balance of three values: durability, efficiency, and flexibility. If a trail has only one of these qualities it will not persist for long: a trail that is too durable will be too fixed, and will fail when conditions change; a trail that is too flexible will be too flimsy, and will erode; and a trail that is too efficient will be too parsimonious, and so will lack resilience.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“I thought back to my experience of being lost amid the Tuckamore, how intensely I had yearned for the comfort of a building, or even just a trail—something solid and familiar to which I could cling. Huxley had felt that yearning too; I suspect most people have. There is no sure way of knowing what the ancient Ediacarans felt, or if they even could feel. But here, written in stone, was a clue. In the end—or rather, in the beginning—the first animals to summon the strength to venture forth may simply have wanted to go back home.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“The canonical example of this phenomenon is an experiment run by the British scientist Francis Galton. In 1906, Galton collected data from a group of people at a country fair who were trying to guess the weight of a fat ox. Of the roughly eight hundred people who wagered a guess, most were wide of the mark. However, the average of all their guesses was nearly perfect. This experiment would later be repeated many times. Oddly, researchers learned that the key to the experiment was that each person needed to judge the weight of the ox independently, without sharing their guesses with one another. In similar experiments where people were given access to one another’s answers, the collective intelligence of the group worsened. Often, the early guesses provoked a false consensus to form, a vicious circle that caused the later guesses to hurtle toward ever-greater error. “The more influence a group’s members exert on each other,” wrote Surowiecki, “the less likely it is that the group’s decisions will be wise ones.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Pierre-Paul Grassé introduced the notion of “stigmergy.” Stigmergy is a form of indirect communication and leaderless cooperation, using signals deposited in the environment.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Systems built on universal trust are universally easy to exploit.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Having grown up in those woods, Walker knew that for many people, the wilderness did not represent an otherworldly sanctum of ‘biodiversity,’ as it did for many urban environmentalists. Rather, it served as the birthplace, staging ground, and repository for the area’s deepest traditions.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Every voyage is a gamble.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“The essence of herding is not domination, but dance.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“You can tell the story without ever going to Mount Mitchell, it’s still an entertaining story. But when you go up on top of that mountain and you see that landform, you’re like ‘Oh, this is what they’re describing.’ It’s amazing.” “Almost every prominent rock and mountain, every deep bend in the river, in the old Cherokee country has its accompanying legend,” noted the ethnographer James Mooney. “It may be a little story that can be told in a paragraph, to account for some natural feature, or it may be one chapter of a myth that has its sequel in a mountain a hundred miles away.” This phenomenon, Mooney wrote, extended well beyond the Cherokee. In the storytelling traditions of virtually every indigenous culture, stories don’t unfold abstractly, like Little Red Riding Hood skipping through unnamed woods; they take place. The stories of the Inuit, for example, always specify a real setting where the story (often, a depiction of a journey) unfolds; many stories even include details about the direction of the prevailing wind.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Apache oral narratives were vivid, fluid; they shifted subtly with each telling, in accordance with the whims of the speaker and the disposition of the listener. Apache stories may not have been strictly accurate by academic standards, but they were wise, witty, and most important, they worked. To teach someone a lesson, Apache elders would often tell that person a story about a specific place. For example, a careless boy might be told the story of the canyon where a girl took a shortcut against her mother’s instructions and ended up getting bitten by a snake. That way, every time the careless boy passed by or even heard mention of that canyon, he would be reminded of the lesson. It was, therefore, no exaggeration when Apaches said that a place “stalks” them, or that the land “makes the people live right.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Like storm clouds, slowly, and then all at once, around the mountaintop an aesthetic appreciation had coalesced. “It became almost an obligatory mark of a vigorous public man of New England in those years that he had made the ascent of Mount Washington,” wrote the Watermans. The sentiment seems to have originated among city dwellers, for whom mountains were exotic. The people who lived at the base of the peaks—who were necessarily fixated on extracting economic and subsistence value from the land—were unlikely to ever climb them.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Left to their own devices, people unwittingly redesigned their cities precisely as ants would.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Ultimately, moving with the flow, rather than racing through it, gets everyone in the swarm to their various destinations more quickly.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“It is pleasant to be free," wrote Aldous Huxley, who, like Eberhart, for years owned little more than an automobile and a few books. "Bus occasionally, I must confession, I regret the chains with which I have not loaded myself. In these moods I desire a house full of stuff, a plot of land with things growing on it; I feel that I should like to know one small place and its people intimately, that I should like to have known then for years, all my life. But one cannot be two incompatible things at the same time. If one desires freedom, one must sacrifice the advantages of being bound.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Among trail-builders, it is axiomatic that when hikers get tired, hikers get selfish.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“However, a desk full of a million tiny books would not on its own solve the problem of information overload; if anything, it would exacerbate it. To remedy this problem, Bush envisioned that the texts could be strung together into “associative trails.” Largely, this task would fall to hardy souls “who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.” It would be the job of these “trail blazers” to wade through the mass of information and connect them thematically, and then to share their trails, like guidebooks.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“Wisdom is a rarified form of intelligence born of experience, the result of carefully testing your beliefs against reality.”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration
“trace begins to evolve into a trail. As Huxley argued, the same pattern underlies all scientific progress; best guesses are ventured, which, over time, become better guesses. Thus a trail grows—a hunch is strengthened to a claim, a claim splits into a dialogue, a dialogue frays into a debate, a debate swells into a chorus, and a chorus rises, full, now, of clashes and echoes and weird new harmonies, with each new voice calling out:”
Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration

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