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Monday, June 01, 2020
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Old Road Signs with New Meanings

 
 
     Yesterday, my wife and I walked the .6 mile trail to Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky-Tennessee-Virginia state lines. It was raining but we had rain gear and walked the path with excitement and anticipation. As we walked this ancient east-west highway of our Native American ancestors, I was reminded of how this trail was the same one that my great-great grandfather Elisha Hedden had walked.  He and his father traveled from Virginia through North Carolina and into Kentucky by way of the Cumberland Gap on their way to take possession of a land grant in what was then Jefferson County. That land would later be called Mount Eden in Spencer County. Elisha is buried on part of the land his father was given as a result of his own father's service in the War of 1812. I have visited his grave several times and felt a closeness to this special man.
     As we climbed the twisting gravel and dirt trail, I noticed not far from the "saddle" of the Gap a conspicuously very old tree to my left growing with a strangely bent branch. I immediately recognized the tree as what is known as a "trail tree". These ancient trees are among the last vestiges of trail markers used by Native Americans to point the way for others of their tribe warn of danger that might lie ahead. The direction of this trail tree pointed directly to the Cumberland Gap! I was so excited to have noticed this tree in the tall and concealing woods that encircle the Cumberland Gap Trail. Because trail trees are roughly 150 to 200 years old, many of them won’t be with us for very much longer. We may still be able to see this original road map of our country, but the window to do so is closing. 
     Today we travel the interstate highways clearly marked with large green metal signs embedded with chips of glass that reflect our auto lights even at night. These signs give clear directions to where the road will lead or what may lie ahead. But our American ancestors of more than 200 years ago followed green signs that were just as effective in providing directions that they would need along the trail. It is a grand discovery for this old pioneer to have caught a glimpse of a 200 year old road marker on my journey through life!