“The words of Marcus Aurelius thundered in my brain. ‘It is not dying that a man should fear, but a man should fear never having lived at all.’ ” –Tom Brown, Jr.I’ve been contemplating how to relate my experience at the Tracker School’s Standard Class at Camp Lindblad in California. I imagine that different people will have different interests and so I’ve decided to write a few posts about the experience. This post will talk about the content and mechanics of what we learned.
The course is intense. We started the day with breakfast and chores at 7 am and kept a full day until 10:30 or ll every night. Most of that was in lecture–other courses aren’t so lecture-heavy. I took over a 100 pages of notes and drawings (on full-sized paper) plus supplementary pictures. We covered four categories: Survival, Tracking, Awareness, and Spirit.
In Survival we focused on the basics of Shelter, Water, Fire, and Food–so the first day we worked on Bowdrill–which has become a teacher to me. We built a debris shelter as a group. We learned two different ways to purify water–and also different ways to find it. We came to understand fire and what our relationship to it in new ways. We learned the basics of finding plant and animal food. I learned to how to eat thistles raw. There were a thousand “aha!” moments.
For example, I’ve watched my father clean and filet dozens and dozens of fish as a kid–but I’d never done it. ’til the standard, when we worked in pairs to clean a fresh-caught rock fish and cook it over coals. Delicious!
With Tracking, we worked on clear print identification, gait patterns, and the more subtle signs of tracking. I started to feel a connection to tracking before I left. I love it, really. Seeing the sign of how other beings are using places–knowing the story of a place is fascinating to me. Then there’s the tracking itself–following the story of how an animal moves through the land responding to its environment, its needs, and the other animals around it. I studied my own tracks in the tracking box–walking, running, barefoot. Wondering what secrets were there–that even I didn’t know about.
Awareness was a lot of fun, too. Volunteers in the course often camouflaged themselves and surprised us during a demonstration or workshop.Awareness also was there with how we moved in the landscape; how we responded to our environment; how we took care of one another and ourselves.
Tom Brown, Jr.’s stories stirred our Spirit and he shared with us some of the foundational teachings of Grandfather (Stalking Wolf). These are special moments in the course where students could see the birthright of humans and how taking a purely physical approach to survival and tracking skills is not sufficient. There is much more to living a full life.
We finished the course on my birthday. It felt like a true birth day, an opportunity to mark my own new opportunities.
Since coming back, I’ve been practicing some of the skills every day: bowdrill is every day. Yesterday, I made four coals with my daughter and we built a small fire with the last one. It was the first time she’d gotten a coal with anyone other than her teacher, Kevin Glenn.
I make cordage almost every day. We’ve practiced caretaking on the land–visiting neglected places and helping them to grow into more health.
On Sunday the entire family went tracking with Kevin for a couple of hours and found mink tracks among others–in a very unexpected place.
Tom Brown shared that the skills are a gateway to the Earth. This is so.