Tall Tales of the Trails: Tall Tales and Society.

Tall Tales and Society: The Social Role of Stories and oral traditions.

Now that we’ve seen not only where Tall Tales have come from and shown a case-study you should be up to speed on what a Tall Tale is and how it is delivered. This installment will revolve around the tradition as it exists at this time in the trail culture.

Storytelling has always been a communal activity. There has to be at least two people present to tell a story, as opposed to writing a story. Storytelling is always a dynamic, participatory experience for both sides. As the narrator weaves their tale, the audience willfully suspends disbelief, follows along, and frequently responds to rhetorical and narrative questions asked in the course of the story.

This makes storytelling a perfect recreation in the off-times of a hike, and while gathered at shelters and campsites. Especially well adapted to rainy days, it brings diverse groups of people together in ways other activities cannot, and at the same time allows members of the group to learn more about each other.

Further, storytelling passes the time when there is nothing else to do, and relieves both boredom and misery. This is a function of Stories from the beginnings of language to the present day. Entertainment, education, and more are all accomplished in the act of telling a story.

In some cases, a story told to others can even be an act of healing. Throughout the ages, soldiers have found solace in telling stories of their trials to not only other soldiers who lived through similar events, but to those who have not. These stories served, and continue to serve, as a way to relate experience otherwise hidden, such as the dark world of combat and warfare. These stories of loss, victory, and the costs of both served to remind society of what was at stake, and cautioned against the reckless use of force in ancient societies. They were a way to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by the First World War, and still used today to heal the scars of trauma from all walks of life

Lastly, storytelling has a role in the creation of communities, creating a shared corps of references and can encompass creation myths, origin stories, myths, and legends. These in turn shape the mores and ethics of a society, either on a large or small scale. A good example of this is the story of Smokey Bear, which most people in the hiking world know.  This story establishes, for outdoors-people, a set of lessons which reinforce the leave-no-trace principles, care in the treatment of fire, and the need for stewardship of wild lands. These are all cornerstones of conservation movements, and endure through these stories and other education efforts like Leave No Trace.

Thus, stories, and telling them, are important to far more than just the long distance trail communities of the United States. I encourage you to tell stories on the trail as a way to interact with others, pass the time, as a form of alternate hike documentation, and to create a real, lasting community. I also urge you to write these stories down, and preserve them for the future, because they can tell others many decades hence much about how we treated the trails, and what they meant to us. Frequently, these elements are lost to history, and we are simply left wondering what importance was given to these monumental works of preservation.

Do us all a favor by preserving our shared trail culture. In future, this series hopes to host an assortment of curated stories from the trails in the US. If you have a story, have heard a story, have told a story, have hiked or at least know what hiking and stories are, please take the survey here

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