In my last post I just scratched the surface of the concept of being in the wilderness, of “wilderness mind” as we call it. I discussed the importance of wilderness and wilderness mind for my son and I, and how being in the bush enhances our lives. One of the best methods we have found for approaching and practicing wilderness mind is through the arts of stalking and tracking.
Stalking and tracking are in fact two different parts of the same practice, the very ancient practice of acquiring food. Without the skills of stalking and tracking, ancient hunters and their families went without meat. For us, without the stalk we may catch a glimpse of our quarry far off in the distance if we are lucky. Without the track there is no application for stalking and it is likely we won’t see or hear our quarry at all. With the proper application of both practices we find ourselves fully aware of everything happening around us- every movement, noise, and smell. We become aware of subtle changes in temperature and wind direction, changes in terrain, vegetation, and moisture in the soil, and we might eventually find ourselves within easy viewing, if not touching distance, of our quarry. We have achieved wilderness mind.
Stalking is defined in Gilcraft’s Training in Tracking as “the art of approaching an object under cover or by stealth, but is more generally described as the ability to move rapidly…from place to place without being seen or heard…while seeing and observing everything that is going on.” Quite a definition! Later in his narrative Gilcraft adds the word “stealthily” to the definition, and concludes that the word finishes out the definition of stalking. Gilcraft by the way is a pseudonym for an early 20th century author who wrote books on outdoor pursuits. The present title was written with the Scouts (the Boy Scouts) in mind, with an introduction by Robert Baden-Powell, the “Chief Scout” and founder of the movement, and British hero of the Boer War.
The first step for us then, in stalking and following a track, is always the same: “tuning in”. Bob Carss in his SAS Guide to Tracking defines tuning in as “the initial reading of the sign that enables the tracker to think and act as the quarry.” To get tuned in to the environment, we stop, stand for a while, kneel at our start point, and listen to our surroundings. We look over the ground closely, the ground at our feet, a meter or so away, and off into the distance all around us. We really “get a feel” for what is going on at that place at that time. We take in the environment, observe and mentally note anything of interest, and especially anything that could relate to our quarry. Then we visually start our track by following the sign with our eyes. We make more observations, and from all of this we start to create our “tracking picture”, that is, the overall picture of our quarry- how it acts, thinks, what the next move might be.
Based on what we observe initially, we might ask ourselves such questions as: how many were there, were they frightened, moving quickly, hungry, out at dawn, before dawn, carrying a pack, and so on. Countless questions can be asked, and many can be answered just as you are starting out by observing, and by using deduction. As you move along countless other questions arise, are answered, and the tracking picture is refined or amended as the track progresses and more information becomes available. Tracking, and stalking, therefore become not only an exercise in patience, observation, and stealth, but also an investgation- trackers are detectives, following a trail, looking for answers.
Our goals then in stalking and tracking become many: we use and build our powers of observation and deduction, learn to record, mentally and on paper, to use our ingenuity and intuition, and to bring our exercise to a conclusion, whether that be confirming a suspicion about a person who made a footprint, or sitting at a fire eating meat we have successfully hunted. We do this by moving stealthily, by moving quietly, slowly, with caution. Every move is deliberate and intentional. We are in tune with nature and our environment and we are calling up the knowledge and memory of our ancestors, the knowledge of the skills that kept them alive thousands of years ago, knowledge that is still to be found within us if we only take the time to look for it.
For more information on stalking, tracking, our desert adventures, and our learning philosophy, visit the Desert Explorer website.