Out of the primordial ooze it crawled…
In the first of a series of animal tracking classes, Sam Coffman took us through three different aspects of tracking.
At the beginning of the day he focused on awareness exercises. We first did a breathing and centering exercise to allow us to focus on the natural world around us and quiet our own inner dialogues. (Sam explains this exercise in detail in his podcast on awareness). He then sent us out to find a “sit spot” where we would remain for about an hour and a half, mapping the area, marking our own tracks in and out of the spot, and watching for animal activity and tracks.
In my sit spot, up on the edge of the quarry, I had a great vantage point of the quarry itself, and I chose it because I had spent hours there during the recon exercise in my primitive core basic class. However, at noon in this wide open space, the only creatures I saw were dragonflies and ants that constantly climbed on my legs. I also found a pile of animal scat filled with persimmon seeds and beetle carapaces, likely from a small mammal like a raccoon or possum. Russ, who chose a spot in the trees near the creek, actually encountered a bobcat, and because of his quieted mind, the animal never noticed him there until he reached for his phone to take a photo. That small movement – and more, the changed mental attitude – spooked the creature and it ran off.
After lunch, Sam explained some of the fundamentals of tracking. We learned basic mammal taxonomy, track morphology, animal gaits, and how to measure tracks. He recommended two books for us to use as “textbooks” for the course:
- Mark Elbroch’s Mammal Tracks and Sign
- James C. Halfpenny’s A Field Guide to Mammal Tracking in North America
Finally, we went out into the quarry to check out recent animal tracks. We found tracks from a coyote, dogs, what may have been a fox, deer, a turtle, and various birds including a great blue heron.
The class was rather challenging for me, since I have absolutely no previous experience with tracking. Animal tracks are an entire language of their own, with their own rules and syntax much like written words.
It’s also difficult sometimes to even see a track in the first place. For example, when we were supposed to mark, and then try to find our own tracks at our sit spot, I failed to discern anything different from the grass I had stepped on and the grass around it. As we looked at the animal tracks, some were quite visible and easy to at least take a stab at, but some were just muddy holes. When my books arrive, I hope with study to be able to develop at least rudimentary track identification skills so in our next class I can begin to make sense of it all.
Even with the difficulty of the material, though, learning tracking is a really important skill to me. Whether I use the knowledge to impress my friend, hunt food or just figure out what’s digging up my garden, it will all be useful to me. Learning tracking also leads to learning more about the animals themselves – their habits, foods, predators, and so on, all of which is an important part of appreciating and living within the natural world.
Note: purchasing the books through those links will help support this blog.