If you spend any time walking in the woods, you see a lot of strange looking trees — trees shaped by the wind, split by lightning or reaching toward. And — occasionally — some twists and turns are man-made.
When walking in the woods near his Putney, Vermont, home, Dan Kubick discovered a most unusual tree.
“Top to bottom, it’s probably about 60 feet, 70 feet maybe,” Kubick said.
That’s not the unusual part.
“It goes up about 9 feet straight up and then at a 90 degree angle goes out about another 8 or 9 feet before going directly up again,” Kubick said.
This 2-to-300-year-old sugar maple is believed to be the first Native American trail tree discovered in Vermont. Trail trees or trail marker trees were intentionally shaped by Native Americans to mark trails or to point to graves, sacred sites or water.
“So, if the native is out hunting or going somewhere and they need to know where water is located, these trees often pointed to water sources,” said Don Wells, with the nonprofit Mountain Stewards in Georgia.
Wells oversees the National Trail Tree Project, an initiative to locate, document and preserve these pieces of living history.
“What they did is that they would take a sapling and then they would bend it horizontally, lock it down with tie-downs for maybe a year or two for it to lock into that horizontal position,” he said. “Then they would come back and bend up the tree vertical, which would then make a pointer.”
Wells has a database of over 2000 trail trees in 41 states.
“We have gone across the nation and we have interviewed Native American elders about these trees,” Wells said. “Now these are very sacred to them and for a long-time they would not talk about them.”
But Wells wants to talk about them — and get them protected under federal law. He said urban development throughout New England probably destroyed many Native American trail trees.
In rural New York, there are hundreds, but the one discovered by Dan Kubick in southern Vermont is one of only four in New England, with others in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Correction: We misspelled Dan Kubick’s last name in an earlier version of this story.