On Trails by Robert Moor

Rating: [2 - philosophy/history/nature] (see explanation of ratings here)

"Every step, we push forward into the unknown, following the path, and leaving a trail."

In the end I'm not sure the content was groundbreaking, but the writing was an easy 10/10 and made up for anything lacking in philosophical insight or the overall purpose of the book. Part of me is not sure what I learned, (I did learn about trails, but why?), but it is beautifully written.

Book Notes:

Followers can be as important as the trailblazer to forming a useful route - they optimize, taking off unnecessary bends, obstructions; small improvements with each subsequent trip.

Trails are efforts to simplify the unknown or reduce the number of options.

Trails are made in the walking, they adapt over time to the needs of the people that use them.

Good trails balance efficiency, flexibility, and durability; they streamline and self-reinforce, and they bend but do not break.

"When we take a step back, we find that the key difference between a trail and a path is directional: paths extend forward, whereas trails extend backward."
"Systems built on universal trust are universally easy to exploit."

Trails start as a best guess - there must be something worth reaching on the other side. Once the guess is proven over and over again by more followers, a trail starts to form.

"A trail forms when a group of individuals unites to reach a common end."

Skillful herding means less forcing the sheep to go where you want but motivating them to want to go there on their own.

Trails predate writing, language and other forms of communication in the goal to make sense of the world's complexity. They accrue more information and significance over time, as they connect more people, places, and stories.

Wilderness is a human creation; we define and delineate its boundaries and use.

Creator of Appalachain trail on its "ultimate purpose": "1. to walk; 2. to see; and 3. to see what you see!"

Unused trails fade away given a long enough time scale; many human trails (e.g. highways) will take a very long time to fade.

Context is important for different people or cultures to understand one another. While global connectedness as increased, tribalism has also because we can see other cultures and people more easily, but we lack the context to understand why they are different. "Long ago, we call came from the same place." It's helpful to search for the common point, and start understanding from there.

We choose our path, but our path influences our choices. We should choose our path wisely.

Trails are enjoyable in part because they represent a binary choice: go forward or quit.

What do we value above all?

"Wisdom—not intelligence, not cleverness, not even moral goodness, but wisdom—is what guides us through the unknown."
"Wisdom is a rarified form of intelligence born of experience, the result of carefully testing your beliefs against reality. You make an attempt at solving a problem, and sometimes you stumble upon success; other times you make mistakes, and then you correct them. Over time you learn, you adapt, you grow. In other words, wisdom is a form of judgment that evolves."
"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."

The more effectively trails get us to where we're going, the more hidden their structure and story of creation.

"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."

Inherited wisdom is very useful, but applying it through experience is even more so.