Trail trees (or signal trees or thong trees) are trees "modified by the American Aboriginal peoples in order to signify trails, campsites, or special locations (water supply, food, safety, etc.). Often these were oak saplings that are given a unique bend, usually pointed in the direction of the point of interest." The scope and spread of these trees seems to be a recent discovery and a certain hesitance to affirm them as man-made abounds. There is a (or has been, the site is dated) fabulous project attempting to map the location of all known trees and the trails they collectively mark in order to confirm them as human artefacts rather than flukes of nature.
The locals know their way through the forest and I guess that these trees are meant for travellers and visitors. How wonderful it must be to have travelled for days through high forest, alone and out of reach of humanity and then to suddenly cross the path of a signal tree pointing you into the direction of a human settlement. These trees are historic artefacts and this humanising effect is even larger today. Now the forest is empty and the old ways have disappeared: the trail tree is a reminder of what has been, a melancholic marker, not the promising announcement of being welcomed by friends and family.
An earlier post on wayfinding in the Amazon.
|A map showing the location of signal trees and the trail they create. Wish it was bigger!