For the past several days I’ve been mapping a small area of woods in the southern part of our town known informally as “The Maze.” The area is about a half square mile in extent, or something over 300 acres.
What drew me to this area for a mapping project is its total lack of any existing roads. Within its boundaries there are no paved roads, no dirt roads, no jeep trails, no roads of any kind. As far as I know, that makes it the single largest stretch of road-less area on the Outer Cape.
But over the past several years I have noticed a number of new paths or trails snaking their way into the area from the roads at its perimeter. Though I have not been present at their creation, my guess is that these new trails were made by dirt bikes. They are too definite and wide to be “deer trails,” and I know they are not old wood roads that have been abandoned and reduced to paths, since they do not follow the contours of the land, as the old roads did. Instead they wind up and down the hills and kettle holes in a meandering, mindless pattern that suggests they were made merely for kinetic pleasure. If they are the result of dirt bikes, the bike owners have so far had the good manners not to do their noisy path-making while I’m there, and while I don’t condone their presence, I am happy to take advantage of their results.
At any rate, it is these new paths or bike trails I wished to map. But why bother to map such ephemeral and random paths, ones that have no historical significance or environmental justification and are not likely to last long in any case? I’m not sure I can say for certain. Part of it, of course, is to provide myself with a rough guide for traversing these new trails through the Maze. But perhaps it is also their very ephemeralness that makes we want to record their transitory presence. Maybe that’s why I do it – just to be able to say, “Here, once, was a network of paths made by internal combustion machines for no other purpose than the mindless recreation of their drivers, but also inadvertently creating access through the Maze for pedestrians like, me.
As I traversed this landscape, sketching in the new trails on my map, I looked up to see a nearly full moon that had cleared the low trees. And perhaps because I had roads on my mind, I thought of the footprints made on the moon’s surface by American astronauts nearly a half-century ago. Those footprints, representing a visit of only a few hours, may – if not wiped out by future human activity - remain for millennia, even geologic ages. After all, there is no rain, no wind, no fire, and, as yet, no machines running around the lunar landscape to obliterate them.