Tracking is a state of mind more than anything else, and there are some simple tools I use to move into that state. Several basic principles of tracker mind enable this shift into a more engaged and connected relationship with nature, whether I’m alone or with a group.
1–Giving voice to gratitude and openness, and bringing the minds together.
2–Entering a state of awareness and quieted mind, sensory intensification, and letting magic happen.
3–Entering the spirit of the land– envisioning the animals, how they move, where they are and how they fit in.
4–Listening to the voice and motion of the land.
5–Observing from the three primary perspectives–flying, standing and kneeling.
6–Developing physical tracking skills–tracks, gaits and pressure releases.
7–Developing sign tracking skills–scat analysis, feeding sign, digs and runs.
8–Hitting walls and moving through them.
9–Bringing tracking into our daily lives.
These are the basic tools of animal tracking. They are well tested and reliable, and they form the outline of how I teach tracking and how I do tracking. These principles are woven through everything I’ve written in this book.
Of all the essays in this collection, this may be the MOST important one to read slowly, to drink up and make sure you savor each point. So take your time. Relax. Let go of haste and hurry and feel yourself in each of the steps I’m about to take. Absorb these steps and make them your own. This will start you on a new way of enriching your experience of nature and in the end, your experience of life.
1-First and always, I begin the shift into awareness with an intentional acknowledgement of how grateful I am to be alive and to be a part of the lovely earth. There are many ways to make this acknowledgement, but the important thing is to do it consciously and in a spirit of cooperation and joining of minds with my companions and with all the creatures of the earth. For me, it is the start of slowing down, opening up my senses and lighting up my curiosity to see and learn new things. This is where I begin to join the interconnectedness of all things.
2-Next, I enter awareness by literally slowing myself down and walking more quietly; slowing my breathing; and expanding my sensory perception, my “wide-angle” vision and all of my senses. I take a moment and ground myself wherever I am, to feel the sun and wind on my skin, to listen deeply into my surroundings, to notice my own presence and begin “lowering my profile” so I begin to blend in more and become less obvious. This is how I get out of my own way and prepare to let magic happen.
3-From this place of quiet awareness, I enter the spirit of the land and begin to assess its qualities, its strengths and weaknesses in regard to different animal species, what animals are likely to live in it and where they are likely to be. I gather a sense of the recent weather patterns. I notice the shape of the land and its plant communities. I begin to envision where the animals are, how they move, and what they are doing. I start to anticipate some of what is likely to be here. I am animating this world, bringing it to life!
4-Now I begin to listen to the language and patterns of birdcalls, and the whole baseline symphony of nature–both sound and motion–and tune in to the ever-changing message in it and what it can tell me. I practice walking in nature with one ear always attuned to the songs, calls and alarms of the bird communities around me, and what their movement patterns say about their surroundings.
5-As I move across any landscape, and begin to examine tracks, trails, and other signs of animal activity, I find it valuable to remember the three primary perspectives: to first observe the land and any particular scenario I encounter as if I were flying over and taking in the patterns of the big picture, the Eagle’s view, so I can see how a scenario fits into the overall landscape and gives meaning and context to the details I find. Then I can come in closer, but not all at once, and observe the situation from a standing viewpoint, the human viewpoint, thoroughly scanning the whole area for any relevant information. Finally it is time to come in close to the ground, the Mouse’s viewpoint, and examine small to minute details that tell the whole story. It is easy to get too focused on the details, a state known as “focus lock”, and miss obvious parts of the big picture, so I constantly shift back and forth through these different perspectives.
6-At this point, I can fully deploy my ever-growing knowledge base about the animals in the area, their habits, and how they fit into their niches. This is where I use my accumulated knowledge for each animal of its foot and track morphology, its usual gait and movement patterns, and the tracking fundamentals such as pressure releases (the way the ground reacts to the dynamic pressure of feet in motion), track aging, and how the landscape itself dictates animal movement and the appearance of tracks. This is outright biology and physical tracking, but it is always related to my intuitive sense of the earth, and my sense of where tracks are likely to be found.
7-Sign tracking requires a similar confluence of sharp, informed observation and a deep knowledge of what to expect. This is the juicy energy state that leads me into a constant parade of surprises and new revelations in nature. This is the realm of subtle feeding signs; the richness of scat content and placement; kill-site analysis; bone, feather and fur identification; digs, runs and burrows. Sign tracking will often be a richer source of tracking information than actual tracks in the many areas where there is little good track substrate.
8-As I move into the world of animal tracking, I continually confront things I don’t understand and can’t figure out. I can quickly reach the limits of my knowledge base and my observational skills when I really start paying attention. Nature is full of endlessly deep mysteries. It can be daunting and tiring at times, but I return to the original tools: I remember to slow down, relax, and back off a little, opening my senses…and begin the cycle all over again. Nature is full of mystery but I can match it with my endless curiosity once I learn to hold it all lightly, stay connected with my friends as well as with the earth, keep asking questions, and simply be prepared to be amazed.
9-The whole practice of tracking out in nature slows me down and reconnects me with myself. It helps me come back to my wholeness. This is a rich state of mind to bring back and employ in the rest of my daily life and activities, and may be the most powerful and startling benefit of tracking. It gives me a new point of view, an ability to be more patient and observe more closely than ever before. It helps me balance out the intensity, the panic, and the rush of modern human life. This gives me a higher level of mental health and clarity as well as an inner calmness that leads to greater physical health. This is full circle: this is living in gratitude.