Nature Notes: Thoughts from the TreeSong Community
Featuring Linda Hunter
A glance at the mud made me apply the brakes of my bike. I got off, sat the bike down and looked closely at the puddle. Fresh tracks showing four toes. I expected to see the signature characteristics of a wild canine such as even front digits, claw marks, negative space in the general shape of an “x” and the triangle pulled in toes in digits one and four. We were, after all, about 3,000 feet in elevation on a seldom used back road. Instead, as I got closer, knelt down and gently put my fingers in one of the most robust tracks, I realized that my fingers were in the newly laid tracks of a female cougar. A quick scan of the rest of the tracks revealed that she had a kitten with her, and that she had walked there until she heard us coming. The mother cougar had quickly ushered her young one over the bank of the road, down a steep section and into a thick stand of trees and brush.
Being able to see tracks in various forest substrates gave me and my two tracking companions a good idea of what had happened there minutes before we came down the road. In awe and wonder we pieced together the story, and realized that as cats do, this one was probably silently watching the humans examining her trail.
Learning to track living things on the earth is the best possible way I know of to learn more about animals, connect with our natural world and feel comfortable and safe in wild environments. After personally pursuing the art of tracking animals and humans for the past thirty years, I have come to the conclusion that learning to track has enriched my life beyond measure. Every time I go outdoors I still learn or see something new.
Teaching tracking is not easy. It takes immense patience and understanding of different people and how they let new information on board their personal ship. Some people learn from books and words, and others learn from up close and personal experience. In my classes I try to provide a lot of both. The payoff is seeing the eggshell of beliefs such as “I can’t/I already know/this is impossible” crack open under the weight of an unmistakable new personal experience.
I never know what nature will show to any of my classes ahead of time, but it always seems like the right things come at the right time. Join us this summer in solving mystery after natural mystery, but be warned; it can be addicting.
Instructor L. J. Hunter is the author of “Lonesome for Bears” Lyons Press 2008, a co-founder of the International Society of Professional Trackers and is certified by CyberTracker Conservation in Track and Sign, as well as by Universal Tracking Services in human tracking. Further experiences include man tracking for Search and Rescue interspersed with natural history studies and a former brown bear viewing guide in an outback Alaskan Lodge.