Trail Angels

View from an airplane window at the wings and flying over a scenic landscape of green hills and rivers

Some mornings reading the daily newspaper can be daunting. Increasing gas prices, economic uncertainty, home foreclosures, and the latest antics of celebrities or politicians. For years now, reading the newspaper (and having coffee) in the morning is my ritual which helps me to feel informed and provides an important context to how I go about my day. Ritual, yes. Pleasant, not always.

This morning, in addition to a story about China’s “cloud physicists” who are scientifically “re-locating” annoying clouds that are hovering over the Olympic stadium, was this terrific article called “Angels of the Appalachian Trail: In western Mass., hikers depend on the kindness of strangers” which really caught my attention.

It was a long article about the hikers of the 2,175 mile long Appalachian Trail and how for hundreds of years they meet and interact with the locals who live near the trail. Apparently, there is a long history of the locals baking cookies, providing fruit or cold drinks, and shuttling hikers to the post office or stores where supplies can be purchased. Sometimes the locals just visit with and offer supportive hugs to the wanderers far from home. It is all pretty sweet, actually.

Hikers quoted in the article describe “trail magic” along the trail (the article defines “trail magic” as “the alchemy of giving and gratitude that is part of the experience of hiking the [Appalachian] trail…”), taking the form of pots of hot coffee and baked goods sitting under a tree or an ice chest of cold beverages that appears from nowhere to be enjoyed by the hikers—free of charge, often anonymously left by “trail angels.”Guidebooks for decades have talked about the trail magic and the local characters who provide it.

And this is the part that grabbed me: When asked why these locals provide this trail magic, a woman who makes homemade blueberry pancakes for hikers, said reflectively “by helping hikers you become part of their story.” You become part of their story…

What do we do in our daily lives—for people, for our communities, for organizations—because we want to become part of the story? Imagine that as a motivator! I wonder, what it would be like to be the anonymous person people talk about at the end of the day who made such a difference in someone’s day that they repeated the story to everyone they knew. What would it be like to offer cold drinks to your trash collector or mail carrier…to become part of their story? What would it be like to be the board member who respects and appreciates the contributions of the staff… to become part of the staff story? What would it be like to teach our children (or influence the children in our lives) the essential lesson of freedom and responsibility…to become part of their story?

What would being a “trail angel” creating “trail magic” in your daily life look like and what holds you back from doing just that? What is the story someone is telling about you today?


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Gary M. Groth, MS, PCC, CPCC

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