Book of the March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker

A few weeks ago I’d contacted my friend Parker Veitch of White Mountain Mushrooms, LLC, to make sure he was willing to co-lead a couple of fungi walks this summer and in his response he included this paragraph: “I have a book for you. Should I leave it at the office? The first 20 or so pages are a little slow, but I think you will really like it.”  

Like it? I LOVE it. And I haven’t even finished reading it. So you must be curious by now. As I was when I saw it sitting on the table at the Greater Lovell Land Trust office. You see, I was sure the book would be about fungi because Parker is always trying to help me learn about the principal decomposers of the world. Ah, but one should never assume.

May I present to you the Book of March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker by Tamarack Song.

This book is like no other tracking book that I’ve read. As I wrote back to Parker, “Thank you so much for sharing the book with me. I’m in the midst of reading Eager by Ben Goldfarb, The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf, which is about Alexander von Humboldt, and a book of essays by E.B. White (thanks Judy and Bob for gifting me that gem), but right now I’m most captivated by the teaching of Tamarack Song and I am going to have to ask Bridgton Books to order a copy for me. I want to be him and have the understandings and slow down and ask the questions he asks. And teach others to do the same.

At first I couldn’t put the book down. But now I’ve changed my tune a bit because I want to savor it. Typically, when I read a book such as this I underline key phrases, write notes in the margin and turn page corners up. But, because I’m only borrowing this copy I’m not doing that. (Did I have you nervous for a minute there, Parker?) And that’s making me soak it all in and savor each chapter more fully than I might.

You see, Tamarack, according to the back cover blurb, “has spent his life studying the world’s aboriginal peoples, apprenticing to Elders, and learning traditional hunter-gatherer survival skills. He has spent years alone in the woods as well as living with a pack of Wolves. In 1987, he founded the Teaching Drum Outdoor School in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin, where he runs the yearlong Wilderness Guide Program.”

In each of the sixteen chapters, Tamarack plays the role of guide, but not by telling. Rather, he takes the reader along on an exploration with one of his students, and encourages all of us to question what we see. In other words, to never assume, which is what I did when Parker first mentioned the book and what I often do when I’m tracking.

Instead, he wants us to notice and think about why the animal might be behaving in a particular manner, even if we know what it is by its tracks and its sign. What’s the rest of the story?

In fact, why did Opossum suddenly appear toward the tail end of the snowstorm on Sunday night?

And why is he in western Maine? How has he survived this winter with its frigid temps (mind you, it’s finally starting to warm up a tad). Where has he been since I last saw his prints in the snow a few months ago? What brought him to our yard again? Does he live under the barn with the rest of the neighborhood?

And what about last night’s visitor, Raccoon. Where has he been all winter? What brought him out? I have to say I wasn’t surprised to see him as once the temps do begin to rise the slightest bit, he appears. I also know that the bird seed attracted him, though he surprised me by not stealing the suet.

Tamarack encourages us to become the animal, especially if we don’t see it, but do see the signs it left behind. Had there been snow on the deck, I imagine I would have recognized the raccoons prints, but I would have wondered about other lines that probably would have appeared. Having the chance to watch Raccoon as I did, I now know that those lines would have been his nose and tongue as he tried to vacuum the seeds.

But then there was Raccoon’s coloration. Why the mask? Why the striped tail? I have so much to think about and learn.

And then late today, I headed out the door through which I’d taken those photos the previous two nights, and noted the Hemlock tree that Porcupine had denuded this winter. It used to be one of my favorites in the yard. But today it occurred to me that though we pay taxes on this property and try to “maintain” it, it really isn’t ours. It never has been. It belongs to the animals and the trees, and yes, even the fungi. Maybe especially the fungi.

One thing I have noticed is that all of Porcupine’s activity has aided Deer who also stops by daily.

As I continued over the stone wall, noting the six or seven other Hemlocks Porcupine has visited, a shape high up in one tree caught my attention.

I moved under Hemlock for a better look. Well, not all the way under, for I sometimes know better than to stand below such an exhibit.

As I looked with the aid of a telephoto lens, I noticed that Porcupine had apparently dined briefly and then fell asleep. Hmmm. I know some people who do that.

But the sight of Porcupine got me thinking–was this friend who lived under the barn a he and not a she after all?

And how did he/she sleep as the breeze swayed that not so thick Hemlock bough upon which Porcupine was balanced?

I did gain a better appreciation for the various types of hair that cover Porcupine’s body.

But still, so many questions, some that haven’t even formed in my mind yet.

I give thanks to Tamarack and his stories within Entering the Mind of the Tracker for that. Now I must practice the art of slowing down and paying more attention.

And I give special thanks to Parker for the offering of this book. In many ways, he emulates Tamarack Song, for both are hunter-gatherers and Parker understands the ecological systems in a way I will never know. At less than half my age, he has already slowed down and learned to pay attention.

To be attuned to the hidden nature–that is my wish. To that end, I shall purchase a copy of this book. And hope you will consider it as well.

Book of March: Entering the Mind of the Tracker: Native Practices for Developing Intuitive Consciousness and Discovering Hidden Nature.

Entering the Mind of the Tracker: Native Practices for Developing Intuitive Consciousness and Discovering Hidden Nature, by Tamarack Song, Bear & Company, a division of Inner Traditions International, 2013.

Living by Faith and other Fun Finds

For a few minutes, I stand still and watch a chipmunk leave the safety of his hole and race under our kayaks before entering the refuge of bushes beyond. Out of sight, I still have a general idea of his whereabouts as I hear leaves crackle with his movements. Moments later, he scampers to the top of a kayak, pieces of a dried leaf dangling from his stuffed cheeks and mouth.

chip

He’s a brave soul as the main entrance to his underground mansion is in the open, within easy sight of predators–especially birds of prey.

chip 3

Do you see the hole in the ground? His mansion consists of a network of chambers–for sleeping, feeding and birthing. Though chipmunks are not true hibernators, they do enter a state of torpor and sleep for days or weeks on end during the winter, waking occasionally for a snack.

chip 5

So . . . in August, this small critter busily readies his home in preparation for what he believes is to come. He uses the shredded leaves to build a nest. And he stores a cache of nuts and seeds.

It seems to me that this little guy (I assume he’s a male since his name is Chip) thrives because of his faith–though he probably doesn’t call it that. He has faith that he’ll survive the mad dash from his tunnel to the huckleberry bushes and ferns beside the lake. And he has faith that he’ll get all of his housekeeping chores squared away before the snow flies.

Faith–it’s easy enough to have when everything is fine–when the sky is blue and the nuts are plentiful and we are safe; when we have enough of everything we need and no reason to expect that to change.

But . . . when the storm clouds gather and the torrential rain floods our nest or a hawk approaches with its claws extended and our world turns upside down–then we have to practice trust. Right now. Right here. Easier said than done.

I don’t know what the future holds for my little friend, Chip, but I’m sure things don’t always go as planned and yet he continues to work hard every day. I should take a lesson from him.

And now for some other cool shots I took today.

bald eagle 1

I made my own mad dash this morning to get this photo. I heard their high-pitched whistle before I saw them. Two bald eagles soared high on the thermals so I grabbed my camera, only to discover as I aimed that the battery was dead. Back inside for a quick change and by the time I returned I saw only one.

dragonfly

And on the dock–I think it’s a green marsh hawk dragonfly.

dew drops and scat

Just when you thought I wouldn’t show any scat photos till winter–gotcha! Interesting juxtaposition of raccoon scat beside wintergreen and dainty dewdrops. Word of warning: don’t get too close to raccoon scat. Well, you probably shouldn’t get too close to any scat, but particularly this species, which contains Baylisascaris procyonis or raccoon roundworm

smiley face

I’ll end with a smiley face provided courtesy of a maple-leaf viburnum.

I never know what I’ll find as I wander but I love the lessons and moments of wonder discovered along the way.

Thanks for stopping by.