CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Trail System
Philip Pinch


I flush out a bird.  It hops along a branch and swivels its head to better accuse me, lash me with its chattery invective, the user says when he first enters Trail System.  This bird is just one of a nearly infinite number of entry-level presentations. 
     Trail System as it occurs on a mountain range markets trails to several grades of consumer.  Target audiences are: (1) older couples, (2) older isolated singles, (3) vigorous young couples or singles, (4) loafer young (“hopeful dieter”) couples or singles, or (5) general family.
     The above target audiences converge on their assigned trail.  Users rely upon the trail to provide them respectively relevant presentations they can’t find anywhere else; then they plumb them for meaning.  If a user stumbles, a squirrel watches, rolling and chipping an acorn in its teeth, awaiting user interpretation.  If an argument arises among a target audience—particularly among vigorous young couples—purple hints emerge within the winter sunset peeking through creamy golden and jittery beech leaves still hanging on though other deciduous growth gave up long ago.  When daylight runs out over Trail System and cold descends, a deer sloughs off one of its horns nearby while the user meditates on its significance.  Trail System registers user reactions provoked by its presentations, and uses this research to perfect its machinations. 
     Trail System’s manifold of users produces a near-infinite variety of narratives.  Older isolated single user might fall and break a hip, but general family or vigorous young couple users spy an intersection between their trail and hers.  They find her and relate to her as grandchildren, bringing her sweets and flowers in a hospital.  The old woman never blames the fall on seeming imperfections in her trail; rather, she wishes she could just find a companion, a dignified, older gentleman who wants to get past the ghost of his senile wife.  Her path provides her this man as soon as she starts hiking again.  Users may occasionally transgress their targeted trail’s boundaries, but the System will deploy controlling mechanisms of weather, painful insects, wedgies, and cloaking foliage to prevent undesirable trail crossovers.
     Time also affords mobility between the trails of varying target audiences.  The user might think that he alone governs his shift from one path to the next (a fresh trail rises to greet him), but Trail System deploys slope to create the necessary circumstances for his transfer to a further trail.  Slope and length team with time in a logarithm that determines the appropriate moment at which users enter different target audiences.
     Let a trail settle into memory if the user suspects that other users, or even the presented, usurping hooves and paws of animals, have manipulated his trail like a devious lover.  It will then be easier for him to convince himself that the trail only existed for him, if only for one discrete time.  Though let him believe that his memories aren’t that distinct from those of other users, since Trail System plots for each trail to have a uniform audience.
     Trail System fashions a homogeneous collective memory for each potential pool of users.  Even user disputes such as marital difficulties, anxieties, and joys can be interlarded within the length and slope of the trail with relative similarity over the course of much usage.  Individual users don’t impact a trail, though they are made to feel that they do; rather, the trail and its phenomena, like invulnerable demons, only absorb what they want. 
     The tailored micro-mutations of Trail System cannot be monitored.  Actual trail shifts will be attributed to user delusions, and users are often already suspicious that they have misinterpreted Trail System, since it disseminates the notion that it contains a legendary unknowability, or sublimity.  It fashions a positive charge that we arbitrarily give to the question marks we cannot resolve into periods.  A tendency among users to attribute qualities to a trail that do not really exist is actually provoked by the trail through its slope, length, weather, and life (both mobile and rooted).
     Once on the trail, users feel cheated to find that similar users have chosen the same trail with the same intent, thereby making them want to change market affiliation, but always to a more seriously involved category. 
     Vultures have gutted a dead raccoon; this scene might occur for a user.  Trail System does not try to frighten the user, it has only presented the user with unsettling objects as growth-inducing experiences, and so it intensifies the user’s perceived bond with itself.  Perhaps Trail System “senses” that the user has stagnated; the best user response would be to vigorously conquer ever more trail slope and length.  Such grisly presentations aren’t likely to occur on general family trails.
     When a trail smells of autumn, but not of early spring’s fecundity when winter’s flash-frozen autumn leaves defrost, and Trail System’s admission ticket is therefore available at a discount because the park is emptier, then you are an elderly single user, and you are experiencing Turning Leaf Trail or Silver Fox Run too acutely, so you might want to cross over to Fledgling Fire Road, upon which your wife hasn’t died, you haven’t gone to Canada to save money on prescription drugs, and you are still on speaking terms with one of your daughters, no longer a cult member in Northern California.  And if you hold thinning hair in the shower with a bulbous stomach like a tree that clutches its fallen branches in its live branches with an enormous knot of a tummy underneath, then please find your way to Waterfall Walkabout trail.  This trail is designed for overweight people wanting to feel they are changing their lives in a meaningful way, beginning right now, wanting to believe that every day brings a new adventure, even if the user were crying alone last night, doubting that Trail System could bring any meaningful improvement to his life.  The beauty and comfort of Trail System afford any user the best paths for lifelong changes.  Trail System disdains comparison with other movements, and recommends that users approach it with a clear and open mind.  A tree on Silver Fox Run also embraces the ghosts of its own branches, but has no bark and few leaves.  It is not your tree, it is Trail System’s; you can never identify with it, but this is a response in itself, of the “sublime” kind.  Do you hear Trail System laughing at you?  The trail presented this tree on Silver Fox Run to an elderly immigrant after her grandchildren died in her home country.  But this tree entrances all users, and so it is one of the rare things that Trail System has retained as a permanent presentation.  Trail System “feels” that it is being generous by doing so.  Other older users either sympathize with or resent the tree’s presence, and their reactions are both welcome and predetermined.  Their reactions have supplied the ferns, vines, or woodpeckers that attend the tree, occurring near the shortcut to Irrevocable Isolation Pass, upon which too many users have slid down into nothingness.  Trail System has installed a better barricade so future users don’t follow suit.
     The user makes trees from his interpretations of the universal or vagarious tragedy that attends the apparent growth of humanity.  Animals, living or dead, usually are reactions to the joyful embarrassment of being human, of having lost some sense of communion with nature, which is not really a tragedy and nothing can be done.  So, smile wryly, winsomely, longingly at the way a bear forages or a moose chews, as though you understand Trail System.  Take comfort in the fact that this is all any user can do. 
     Let slope for the purposes of Trail System mean fear of death, and length mean anxiety, when you’ve run out of water thousands of miles away from the trailhead, and the sun is setting, and you don’t know who you are with or what you are doing, why you’ve brought yourself to this point and put so much distance between yourself and Trail System’s beginning.  Trail System will rein in the lost user. 
     Snow collects on the cheap nylon of the bobbing backpack in front of you on the least suitable trail when you argued and she decided she didn’t want to speak with you anymore.  The number of times this has happened increases the perceived length of the suddenly undesirable trail.
     Over time, the user will learn to always strike out on the trail marketed for him, and he will come to love being part of its target audience.  This targeting may create some vague doubt and discomfort.  Yet just as he starts to feel doubt inject its poison, he will begin to meet his other selves on the trail.  One after the other, they approach and pass him, wearing the same clothes, smiling just as falsely as the many other annihilated selves he thought he could avoid and is ashamed to acknowledge have existed.  He had wanted to distinguish himself from the target audience, but the trail’s slope and length work against him to assure that he can never escape Trail System’s relentless iteration of alternative selves.  This is not Trail System’s punishment so much as its essential promise.