Most People seem to agree that we cannot and do not want to go back to the past, but the reason given is often wrong; that time has moved on and what was can never be again. The truth is that we cannot go back to what we never left. Our home is the earth, our time the Pleistocene Ice Ages. The past is the formula for our being.
(Paul Shepard)

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tracking course


 In spring I went on a tracking course with Rob and Mel of wilderness 1-2-1. I had practised tracking to a limited sense when I lived abroad and had read some books on the matter. Rob and Mel run a bushcraft company and have been practising their tracking skills for many years. They track missing people for the police in the United Kingdom and have also honed their skills with the Kalahari San.
Bushmen tracking
 We started the day having a general chat about the outdoors and taking a walk through their woods on the Surrey border. We talked about things we found and got into an appropriate frame of mind for being in the woods. You can't just rush around in the woods like we do everywhere else in life and these periods of acclimatisation can take some time, talking to the head of a prestigious survival school some time ago he told me that they can spend days getting clients acclimatised.We pointed out various signs and points of interest, fox squirrels and lots of deer move through the woods and there was quite good sign of stoats by a rabbit warren. Rob told me of some big cat tracks he saw in Sussex! He had been tracking a deer through the woods then noticed the deer had pulled up almost screeching to a halt. On looking for a cause he found the distinctive pugs of a big cat track.....
 We set out on a observation walk where we looked for human made objects, I was disappointed with how I did as this was a pretty hard test based on searching for missing people which is something I have never really considered or practised. Over a cup of tea they taught me the basics of tracking including measuring techniques lost trail drills then we set out to practise following a trail Mel had laid. Man was this difficult! The drills and techniques they taught worked but it is hard to follow someone when when the little doubt demon is niggling away in your head. I managed to follow the trail with some help, and though I was disappointed with myself was consoled with being told that Sussex woodland is a very hard tracking medium and that the techniques they had taught me they had seen the bushmen also use, including the lost trail drill!
 We debriefed and had more tea, they had cake and biscuits. We discussed the fine art of tracking further then moved on to movement and observations skills. This was taught in a very clear manner though we did not practise the skills to the same extent as I use them on a regular basis when shooting.
 Then for the part that can make some people uncomfortable. Blind tracking, finding the next footprints which had been obscured by a bin liner, this worked uncannily well. The we moved on to sinking fingers into Rob's tracks and trying to intuit what he had been feeling as he made them, again uncanny. I found this bit really interesting and maybe its years of meditating on the tops of mountains but was very accurate in both finding the tracks and guessing both Mel and Rob's state of mind.  Some more "left brained" people have been made very upset by this part of the course (which has a high success rate) even down to denying what had just happened. No claims of supernatural or uncanny powers are made we just kind of agreed that it is a bit weird like guessing that the guy behind you is going to cut you up on the roundabout.
 We ended the day with a long walk through the countryside discussing the land there and the creatures in it, some wild food tips and their experiences tracking with the San and for the Police.A great day sent with great people in which I learned an awful lot and more importantly was given skills that I could go off and practise and build on.
40,000 year old foot print
 Tracking is a difficult art practised by nearly all hunter gatherers, in fact to track is to directly participate in perhaps a million or more years of human experience. It involves both hemispheres of the brain and a total and unwavering almost meditative concentration. To track is to be fully human. To learn and develop the skills has enriched my time in the countryside whether hiking, wandering or working and I would thoroughly recommend taking a course in tracking or indeed and bushcraft skill to those interested in learning more about the world around them and their relationship with it.