Last nights check on the apprentices led to an empty campsite. They had moved to a new and undisclosed location. This morning we began tracking in an effort to locate them. We started in an area just off of the international snowmobile trail system, a mile and three quarters from the nearest paved road. I picked up a disturbance indicating an entry into the forest in the form of a few bent sedge leaves and faint compression’s in the leaf litter leading to a distant pond. The team of six were bare foot, and they were moving at a natural gait. This made the trail more subtle than following a single person with shoes moving at the modern mindset pace. The fluidity of the trail strengthened my suspicions that this was the right direction of travel. I found a single blueberry amongst the fern fronds. This out of context clue, the direction of travel and meandering route, and the overall lay of the landscape were each part of a mosiac the told a story. We continued to the shore of the pond. There, the trail opened up on a small rise covered in pine thatch and wintergreen. For the first time we slowed our pace to pick up subtle disturbances. It was at this point that I noticed a small cloud of smoke rising from the dense canopy ahead. The encampment was concealed about 200 yards away. Closing in, the scuff marks over logs and down the small slopes of the mounds created by the root balls of the ancient pines confirmed the presence of our apprentices. We found them stoking the morning fire after getting it going with a bow drill they made from the landscape.
While the trail was only about five hundred yards, we did not identify a single track. Yet, without a single clear print to identify we were able to trail bare foot folks who had been living in the woods for five months and were instructed to keep a low profile with relative ease. How? Nature is not random. By understanding the baseline of an area you can easily spot disruptions in the flow of energy through those systems that create that baseline. Blockages, imbalances, and lack are all clues. The absence of a hermit thrush song, the crease in a sedge leaf, sand on moss, these are all indicators of the trail. Tracking is much more than following footprints. It is building an awareness of the context in which your subject is moving through time and space. Tracking is the ultimate expression of nature literacy, for in deciphering the landscape for meaning, we actually learn just as much about ourselves.