Merriam-Webster defines a tree blaze as “a mark made on a tree to show a trail,” most particularly “a mark made by chipping off a piece of the bark.” As a material practice, there is a long history of mark-making on trees, imparting scars that last but do not endanger the tree. It is practice of the surveyor, the forester and ranger, and, most simply, of people who move through the landscape.
By leaving a trace in the material of the tree, the maker signals intention and, possibly, layers of information. As an indicator, it projects information in our visual plane for our feet to follow—a design for the sighted and the upright. It heralds an organizing system, one point in a network of points that is sensible only in relation to its terrain.
The placement and number of blazes on a tree are a further extrapolation of terrain and projected human uses:
i) the out-and-back or destination trail, which requires way finding in two directions;
ii) a directional use trail, which guides use in a single direction; and
iii) a loop trail or closed circuit, which is uni-directional and does not revisit the same points.
In the word blaze are echoes of its verb forms—”to make conspicuously brilliant” and “to make conspicuous or public.” Conspicuously brilliant, the blaze is full of material force and interest as an alteration to the texture of the landscape. Conspicuous, it invites its own public to participate in an experiential narration.