The Book Review Saga: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

Chapter 1: Mathew and the One-eyed Cat

I know right! Enough to make you wanna by the book just to read this story. It’s a bobcat, just FYI.

After the story is told, J. Y. and T. M. go on to explain how tracking is more than just following footprints. They also talk about how in today’s society, we are expected to have a MUCH lower level of awareness than what the Native Americans had. The Indians needed awareness to survive. We on the other hand, don’t.

Holistic tracking is very dependent on the five senses, sight, hearing, taste, feel, and smell, especially eyesight. Eyesight is very instrumental in tracking, as, once you’re experienced, you can see the flick of a sparrows tail at 50 yards and know that a bobcat you were trailing is hiding just under the brush. J. Y. and T. M. then say how the holistic tracker seeks to simulate the wild world in as many ways as possible, and I know I certainly do :).

Holistic tracking is also about limitless imagination. You have childlike interest in everything and ask as many questions as possible. For example, you see a funny track and go look at it, discovering that it’s a new animal to the area. This leads you to research the animal, finding out its habits and interests, and going back to where you found the track. Looking at the plants nearby, you know that this animal likes the buds of the flowers on the plant, which then leads you to wonder, “Would the buds have any edible or medicinal value to me?” and the questioning cycle goes on.

They also let you know that to have the singular goal of being a tracker will cause you to miss so much in everything else you could be learning about creation. I know I’ve fallen into the trap of focusing solely on tracking and not learning about other things as well, such as bird language, habits of animals, and what plants animals like to eat. I got pretty sucked into following only tracks at one point, and this caused me to miss not only the big picture of being a naturalist, but also to miss all the wonderful small things that go on around me. Be cautious to not fall into this trap, as it will actually slow your learning down.

So that’s chapter 1. I myself cannot stress how much more there is in tracking than just following tracks. The possibilities of what you could learn are limitless…

All you need is patience, perseverance, determination, and childlike wonder.

Chapter 2: Getting Started

In the first few paragraphs, the authors talk about the “3 stages” of usual development in a tracker. The first is a phase of fun, reading, hiking, exploring, and just general pleasure. The second stage is one of intense learning. You will never find this tracker without his field guides, tape measure, notebook, and magnifying glass. Stage three is an interesting stage. At this point the tracker realizes that although he can try as hard as he wants, he will never learn every secret nature holds. And he’s ok with this. Trackers who are in this stage tend to laugh more, have more fun, and just enjoy nature for what it is, but they still carry around field guides, tape measures, and continue learning.

The next thing they talk about is a sit spot. I will admit, I have not gotten around to finding one until recently. I really should have found one sooner though. A sit spot is a place where you feel connected or drawn to visit and where you can get uncaught up in the business of life. With frequent visiting for a while, preferably daily, it will become as familiar as your own bedroom. The authors recommend spending at least 15 minutes there every day or almost every day, and staying there for as long as reasonable. An hour is ideal. T. M. then tells a story about her first sit spot.

For you people who don’t have woods, this exercise is still possible and highly recommended! You can even do this at a park. This list has some general guidelines that, while don’t need to be perfectly followed, make for a great sit spot. Here’s the guidelines:

  1. It should be convienient. No more than 15 mins drive time, preferably only a 5-10 minute walk away. Sit spots are way more likely to actually be used if you can easily access them.
  2. It should be safe and you should have 24 hour access. If you’re going to be investing time in a sit spot, make it safe. Also, you should be able to access it whenever you want. Night visits to sit spots are recommended, which is why you should have 24 hour access, but not required or needed. Also avoid areas with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. It will be hard to be peaceful and quite if you’re itching the whole time.
  3. The size of a sit spot is bigger than you think. 2 acres will do in a pinch, but 100 acres is ideal. 2 or 3 acres will start to seem really small after awhile. 100 acres is ideal because you should have plenty of wildlife and plant diversity.
  4. There should be a pond, stream, river, or wetland nearby. Some form of constant water. While this is not required, animals generally try to stay near water and you will probably see more wildlife if this is included in your sit spot. If possible, natural grassy areas nearby are great as well. You should also have a good mix of trees and be located in a forest if possible.
  5. It should give you a break from modern society i. e. no highways, homes, noisy places, or factories nearby.
  6. It should feel good and right to you. If you don’t like the location, keep looking. This place will be a constant place to study and will always provide a context in which you can learn.

All of this is covered in more detail in the book, but that is the jist of it. Also, try to take a different route to your sit spot every time. By all means, never take the same path twice to avoid making trails.

Next they talk about field guides and how they’re listed and ordered. I will not talk about what it says, because I’m a little confused myself after reading it :).

Lastly, they end the chapter with a great idea. Create a master list of the animals in your area. This is extremely recommended, because this will keep you from going off on rabbit trails when looking up an animal track. Just get a field guide, or borrow one from the library, and look up range maps for every animal in the field guide. If an animal is bordering where you are, include it. If it is supposedly extinct in your area, include it. There could still be one rare animal left that made the track. Mammal Tracks and Sign, by Mark Elbroch is the field guide I recommend for this. I have done this and it has made my researching a million times quicker. By all means, make a master list. It is more useful than you can imagine.

I hope you guys get a sit spot and enjoy finding it! In this book review saga, I do hope you guys try these exercises out, as they will greatly help you if you decide to take on the challenge of tracking.

Chapter 3: The Art of Journaling

So, now we will learn about the art of journaling. Journaling is a powerful tool in tracking. J. Y. begins by saying that most people think journaling is not the way natives learned. They are right, but only in a narrow regard. While the learning isn’t exactly the same, it is still similiar. What really keeps people from learning are the distractions of modern life, such as: distraction, business, the need to make a living, laziness, and lack of focus. He then tells a story about his first campout with Tom Brown Jr.

While you may not get to tell stories around the campfire or have village elders to guide you in your learning, you actually can play elder to yourself. I know, this sounds silly, stupid, and childish, and that’s what I thought at first. Now, after doing it myself, I see just how wise doing this really is. J. Y. calls it the “elders of tracking.” Here is how you do it.

Who, who left the track? Is it male or female, old or young, healthy or sick, wild or domestic, and so on. You will likely not be able to answer all of these at first, and I know I currently can’t, but with time you will be able to.

What, what was the animal doing when it made these tracks? Was it running or walking, was it looking straight ahead, right, or left, and what made it look that way? You will probably only be able to answer the first question at first, and that’s ok, but getting The Science and Art of Tracking by Tom Brown Jr. will be very helpful with these questions. I highly recommend it.

When, when did the animal make the track? Is it fresh or old, was it before or after the last rain, was the ground moist or hard when he stepped on it? Careful observations of the weather greatly help with this.

Why, why was the animal here? Maybe it came to eat, look for a mate, rest, or drink. Learning an animal’s habits and preferences will give you clues as to why it was there.

Where, where is the animal know? That can only be answered by finding the next track and making a guess.

How, how did the animal feel? Pain or hunger, happy or sad? Try and take the viewpoint of the animal and see through it’s eyes. This is a hard “elder” and I am not good enough to answer this question. This question usually requires months and years of practice before being able to answer.

Next is “mind’s eye journaling.” This is an extremely useful exercise and will help you remember tracks in the field like the back of your hand, that is, if you actually do it right.

First, to practice, choose an illustration or photograph (some animal) and then quiet your mind for a moment. Look at the picture for about 15 seconds and then close your eyes. Now look at the picture in your mind’s eye. Then, open your eyes and compare the picture against your visualization. While looking at the picture, really practice questioning yourself. Act like you have a live specimen before you. Look at shading and coloration. How does it feel weight wise? What do the foot pads feel like? What does it smell like and what noises does it make? Close your eyes again and visualize it. Repeat the process. Finally, close your eyes and give your mind permission to visualize the picture in whatever form it wants (say out loud). Then, after looking at your visualization in your mind’s eye for about 15 seconds, check it against the real picture. You’re finished! This process should only take a couple of minutes and should enable you to remember tracks in great detail without journaling them for days at a time. I’m able to remember a track in great detail up to 4 days by doing this.

Then the authors talk about your Orientation Tracking Journal. It is basically a journal designed to help you identify a track without actually using a field guide, until it comes to check and see if your guess is right. I will not discuss this because, A, you print the journal out, and B, it doesn’t make sense without having a journal in your hand.

They then talk about measuring trails and tracks, but I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself.

Finally, it may be hard to tell a hind track from a front, without using a field guide at least. This exercise will help you with that. Take popsicle sticks (or twigs) and put a stick directly in front of the front toe in a trail of tracks. Short twigs for hind, long twigs for front. Color the tips of the popsicle sticks red and blue and decide which one you want to be hind and front. You should be able to see a pattern in the trail. Then, try and figure out the gait. Stalk, walk, lope, bound, trot, or run?

PHEW, that’s a lot of information, but stay with me! Soon, we talk about owl vision!

Keep calm and track on!