A Path, A Trail, A Word

I have a tee-shirt I use for exercising that says ‘Find Your Own Trail’.  I love that.  Why?  Because ‘Find Your Own Path’ is a cliché, a therapy phrase, a word that conjures things like group hugs and synergy and sidewalks.  Finding a trail brings visions of originality, mystery, and uniqueness.  The trail I seek curves around boulders, humps over tree roots, secrets itself under overhanging sword ferns and salal, peeks shyly through shadows and rain drops and the very occasional sunbeam.  It smells of sap and cedar, moist forest floor, clean breezes and granite.  Really.  Have you ever sniffed granite?  Pick up a rock and hold it close, especially if it’s been in the sun.  You’ll smell that distinct scent of rock. And let’s not forget the miniature world bordering the trail, where Kinnickinnic and pippsissewa bloom.  Say those words.  Don’t they sound more intriguing than if I’d just said, ‘tiny bell shaped pink flowers’?

A trail wanders so that you can’t see the end, only the next bend.  A path is straight and clear with no suspense.  There’s no wonder, no discovery, no way to dream yourself into a story about what you might find as you round that boulder or tree.

Really though, aren’t they both the same word?  Path and Trail.  You walk a path and follow a trail.  You walk a path with head up, arms swinging, breathing easy.  You move along a trail watching where your feet go, sweating as you climb, swiping spider webs and mosquitoes.

These two words bring home to me the importance of choosing exactly the right word in writing.  What a difference it makes if you pause a moment to seek out just the right thing to say, rather than taking the easy way out and using a word that’s okay, but not perfect.  Or, god forbid, a cliché.  There are many times in writing where I have stumbled on the wrong word, not able to pluck out of the air the exact one I want.  I highlight that word and keep going, not wanting to lose the flow of writing.  But then I go back to that spot of color on the page and worry it until the right word appears, fully formed and perfect.

And then I choose to hike that trail.

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