Lately I’ve been reading too many books at once, so I haven’t been able to concentrate as much as I’d like. One of my favorites has been Tracking and the Art of Seeing
, by Paul Rezendes
, a thorough, a thorough introduction to animal tracking. I started out trying to pay special attention to details of track widths and spacing, but eventually I realized that tracks and signs were not the point. They are really only a tool – a crutch, even – to engage our minds enough to arouse our stunted awareness of the natural world.
Tracking an animal is opening the door to the life of that animal. It is an educational process, like learning how to read. In fact, it is learning how to read. Following an animal’s trail may bring you closer to the animal physically, but, more important, it brings you closer to it in perception. The longer you follow the animal, the deeper you enter into a perceptual relationship with its life. If you spend half an hour finding the next track, you may have learned a lot about finding the next track but not much about the animal. If you spend time learning about the animal and its ways, you may be able to find the next track without looking.
My favorite parts were at the start of each animal’s section, where Paul tells of his own experiences. I learned that red squirrels can have a varied diet, including sap and mushrooms that they hang out to dry; that porcupines have a fondness for false truffles (and how this fondness, in turn, helps the hemlocks they eat); and that wolves and mountain lions eat their kills differently. But between the lines, Paul also shares his deeper point – a way to find things out for yourself.
If there is any secret to his method, I would say it starts with respect and admiration, and ends up in seeing animals as equals (which they are).