By: Filip Tkaczyk
The practice of tracking is a very old art, and skill much older than the written word. In it's essence, it is a matter of looking at patterns in the world around us and learning to recognize their meaning. Everything that passes, everything that moves, leaves some kind of track or sign behind itself. Even the passing of the sun, day after day, on a wooden deck will age different parts of it at different rates. Everything that moves around us leaves us a fragment of its story behind, bits and pieces - evidence - of its passing. To learn to track is to learn to read such signs in the landscape and understand their many layered meanings.
Wildlife tracking is the practice of observing the tracks and sign left behind by animals. Their sign might include things such as fur and hair, feathers, scat, holes, scrapes, scratch marks, bones, skulls, lays and beds, trails and tunnels, and other forms of disturbance. Such details carry meaning about what animal passed this way, what it did, how fast it was moving and which way it went. Also, it tells us how it interacted with the landscape, with other species and even with other members of its own species. The approximate time when the animal moved through the area can often be ascertained. Details of its diet can be observed through feeding sign and through details in its scat.
Looking at the details of wildlife tracks and sign is getting a very privileged look into the intimate aspects of an animal's life. It draws us closer, gets us to pay more attention to the world around us and weaves our story with that of the life around us. Through tracking, we gain a deeper sense of the living community we are a part of, and to which we belong.
Though a skill, tracking can also become a way of seeing the world. Once tracking has infused your mind and transformed your relationship to your senses, it is a part of who you are. After a time, when you have practiced enough, it is difficult to move anywhere in the world - even around your own home - without noticing the evidence of the lives that surround you all the time and who's paths cross and intersect with your own.
Consider the space where you live right now. Maybe there is a little green belt or park nearby when you walk. You notice there is a furry scat at the trail intersection. This is likely the scat of the local coyote or fox leaving its scent marking. On your way back to your place, you notice some hand-like tracks in a drying, muddy ditch which are the tracks of a raccoon. Closer to home, you notice how the line of your neighbors cypress trees has been trimmed. This is the browse line of the deer that sneak into this area at night. In the same yard, one of the fence posts in your neighbors yard closest to the deck looks odd. It has a strangely fuzzy, kind of frayed look to one side of it reaching from the ground to about 2 feet up. This is the scratching post of his cat.
In the lawn near your home, you see two bluish bits of what might be plastic. These are the egg shells dropped there deliberately by the robin who nests in the tree on the corner. As you approach your door, the thin, opalescent film across the entryway is the trail of a slug or snail that passed by the previous night. The very small, black, slightly disheveled spiral stuck to the wall near your door is its scat.
Even inside your house, there is evidence of others sharing your space. That dusty cobweb high up in the corner of the main room is the remnants of a cellar spider's web. The spider now probably long gone, has left this gossamer fragment of its unobtrusive presence and the web is only now visible to you as it has collected dust.
The closer you look, the more you come to realize you cannot help but share your space with a multitude of other beings. Learning to read and interpret the signs of their presence will enrich your life.
Tracking is about actively observing and interpreting the world around you and those many creatures that share it with you. Give your attention to one other life around you, follow it and its story and it will surely lead you to another. So much adventure awaits!
Do you want to learn more about the rich, layered world of experiences and stories you walk through every day?
Then come join us and learn more about the art and science of wildlife tracking!