How We Are Reassured
By the sign on the highway that tells us we are on this highway, and in which direction we are going—north, or south, or east, or west.
By the color of the sign and the typeface used, which promote legibility, even, or especially, in adverse conditions.
By the trailhead register, by its mere presence; by the metal box, which protects the register from wind and rain; by the pencil, attached by a string; by the line on which we are to write our names with this pencil that has been provided and the line on which we are to record, at some future time, the fact that we have returned safely, as undoubtedly we will.
By the guidelines published by the Forest Service for reassurance marking via signs, cairns, and blazes, guidelines that let us know that someone is looking out for us—for our potential confusion in the face of many choices. By the signs having been posted, by the trail having been blazed.
By the footprints of others.
By the cairn that tells us we are on the trail. By the cairn. By the cairn.
By the obviousness of these markers. By their maintenance.
Despite these reassurances, I wonder: Should I like this man who drinks a beer when he drives on forest roads? This man with whom I cross the boundary into wilderness, unrecorded? If so, how much? This much?
Erica Soon Olsen was born in Hollywood. She is the author of Recapture & Other Stories (Torrey House Press), a collection of short fiction about the once and future West. She teaches online in the UC Berkeley Extension Professional Sequence in Editing and lives in a log cabin near the Ashley National Forest in northern Utah.