Some trails go nowhere.

I followed another car into the Victoria Glades parking lot. After a few words about the dangers posed by deer hunters (something to think about during November, but not so much in January), the other fellow headed off one way. Since my idea of goofing off didn't involve following him around, I headed off the other way, following what appeared to be a trail, but which petered out before long, in sight of a Fairlane upside down in a dry creek. I wasn't lost, but I was not where I had planned on being.

So I went back upstream (a dry creek bed can be as good as a trail), until I reached the bridge by the parking lot, and what is very obviously the real trail, which I followed until I came to a fork (not the fork I was looking for), which I took, and which promptly disappeared at the bottom of a very large glade, shortly after a large yellow sign advertising that the land was owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Disappearing trails mark the extent to which all trails are essentially suggestions. "Come this way," they say. Or, "perhaps something interesting is just over there."

Footpaths, like advice, come in all sorts of varieties: the too obvious two track, where the trail adopts some farmer's old wagon path through his woodlot; the official, well marked trail established by a hiking club or park manager; or the seemingly random, faint path started by deer, or by people, moving off toward some unstated goal.

Like advice, trails often say implicitly, "or else." When a hiker is miles from the car, and when the country is rough and unknown, a well-marked trail says, "Keep here, or else they're going to have to come looking for you." Or when the place is near the city, the trail says, "stay on the trail; otherwise, the hordes visiting this place will trample it to dust." Being fond neither neither of rescue nor dust, I usually take such suggestions.

But sometimes trails are like people who offer advice regardless of their ignorance. It looks like a foot path--it's all beaten down, and it's free of brush below eye-level--and yet it ends unexpectedly. Usually, it ends nowhere. An old car, upside down in the creek, or the bottom of vast glade complex, while not exactly typical endings for misleading paths, are still pleasant surprises. One doesn't feel quite as much a fool for having gone down them. Or like such a sucker, "sucker trail" being one name for such paths.

Trails are a form of history. Etched on the ground is a record of where people have gone in the past, of what they found worth visiting. Trails outline a kind of story. As we walk along a trail, one scene unfolds after another. Some trails are organized around clear sequences of scenes, and connect one place of interest to another. Others are built like collage, linking one type of trail (the deliberately constructed, clearly recreational footpath) with another (the old logging road). But other trails tell a story of bad ideas, aimless asides, and pointless distractions.

Victoria Glades appeared to me to be a place where trails, like advice from a ne'er-do-well uncle, should be politely ignored. Besides, one of Victoria Glades's sucker trail had left me at the bottom of a slope, the entirety of which was one big glade. And since glades were the reason for my coming to Victoria Glades, maybe it wasn't such a sucker's trail after all.

Perhaps there's an opposite to the sucker's trail, a path like the informal footpaths that follow intermittently along some stretches of Ozark fishing streams, the trail that says, "go this way, or else the official path will lead you away from the good places."