You awake to the dawn song. A glance out the window reveals a low mist in the wetlands across the street and a heavy dew on the grass. It is going to be a fair weather day for at least the next six hours. The hermit thrush to the north of the house stops singing. The robin in the backyard does the same. You run to the kitchen window to witness the close call of a snow shoe hare nearly being killed by a brooding hawk in the front yard. You wait for the corvids and aren’t disappointed. Three jays arrive to harass the hawk as it regains composer and takes flight. It is then that the unbroken tire tracks under the mailbox inform you that no one got the mail yesterday. Faster and more reliable than the internet and much older, is authentic sensory input fed to you through the development of your own innate awareness and tracking skills.
I go out to gather chives and oregano for my omelet and notice that the coltsfoot has gone to seed. Time to disperse some near one of our springs to continue the supply of winter asthma medication for my son. There are tracks near the trash. Not rat or raccoon, but weasel and house cat. Indicators that warn me to monitor the compost pile behind the garden. The first big mosquito hatch occurred three days ago and the black flies nearly altogether disappeared. I mark it on my calendar and compare it to last year.
Reading the landscape and understanding the ebb and flow of systems is key to increasing your awareness and tracking skills. Like water, nature is fluid and rhythmic in it’s movements. All tracking substrates move the same way to a greater or lesser degree. You can see the folds in the layers of rock where swaths have been cut in to the earth for highways. The ripples of two tectonic plates colliding creates the Appalachian Mountain range with the same release of pressure as the crumple zone in the hood a car the collides with a tree. When we can read the layers of fluidity than we can determine what is “base line” and what is “disturbance”.
Like the rhythm of the oceans, the landscape has swells and troughs of major activity and lulls. We call these large rhythms “seasons”. Atop the swells are waves of activity. These smaller cycles are the daily routines of all living things as they unfold in a twenty four hour cycle. Layered on top of these waves are the ripples of disturbance caused by brief but out of the ordinary events. A dog chasing a deer, a sudden but brief cloud burst, the swoop of a hawk at the feeders; these ripples would be considered “disturbances”.
So too does the apply to the realm of tracking. Within the seasonal baseline, all of life is pushed and pulled by the availability of sunlight, emergent plant growth, coolness in summer and warm places in winter. The routines of each day are carefully orchestrated to get a maximum calorie return for calories invested. The trails, runs, daybeds, rubs, scat, chews, and kill sights all appear in a relatively predictable manner based on the setting (ecology of an area) and the cast of characters (list of species within that area). Each animal, including our selves once we learn to “plug in” is played by the landscape as if it were a finely tuned instrument in an orchestra. Any disturbance to the patterns of swells (yearly events) and waves (daily routines), quickly reveals itself as a disturbance (ripples) to the base line. Learn how to increase your nature literacy by taking a course at the Maine Primitive Skills School in Awareness and Tracking. It will change the way you see your world. www.primitiveskills.com.