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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Art of Tracking

Tracking is a science and art form which demands qualities of a person that has the potential to go beyond many other forms of outdoor activity. It is a study with potentially great rewards in the form of intimate and tender moments with nature, challenging one`s own self belief, patience and perseverance.

I would like this article to speak to all of those with a passing familiarity, interest and even expert eye when it comes to tracking and hopefully prompt some new ideas and perceptions, leading to new applications and appreciations of this art form.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to work in the outdoors are surrounded by the tell tale signs of those who live and pass through there. Perhaps you have seen things and wondered what had caused them, or perhaps this will start a new appreciation for the sheer amount of opportunities to track.

My first true realisation as to the potential of tracking, beyond my personal experience, came in supporting two young boys who were struggling to concentrate at school. Their interest in the outdoors prompted the desire to discover what could be found in the woods.

They discovered a hole, deducting this to be the home of a badger having judged it`s size and shape. Then they started to spot where the badgers had clawed the ground as well as their passing having brushed smooth pathways between this annex sett and feeding areas. They spotted this not in the lush fields of grass and plants of summer, but the cold, hard earth of winter. Countless people had been into that woodland and never remarked on those trails now laying before them, and they were eager to follow.

What followed was two hours of dedication, frustration, illumination and finally jubilation. They found a badger. This badger however had long since passed, with the others making trails around him. They stood for the longest time. For two young boys who had shown such brashness in all environments, healthy or otherwise, they had shown a true inner strength of character in their patience, intelligence, and in those last moments, humility.

They revered the bones of this long lost woodland companion and forever had a memory of a special moment where nothing but their own zeal had shown them something few have ever will. Tracking can be powerful, it can be magical, it can be an incredible tool when used correctly. It has the ability to help develop a person holistically, demanding and rewarding all of the individual aspects that make a person who they are and what they can be.

Socially, there is an opportunity develop teamwork skills when working as part of a group to track which can include a negotiation of roles, leadership skills and being aware of their impact on the surrounding woodland as a whole. In moving through any natural environment it develops gross and fine motor skills, a sense of balance, awareness of self, developing of the senses including predominantly unused sensory abilities (peripheral and night vision) as well as the sense of movement (vestibular) and their position within a space (propriception).

Intellectually it engages many different aspects in order to be able to successfully follow sign. There has to be an attention to detail, reasoning what has caused that sign in the way it has been, solving problems in trying to find the next clue, understanding and applying a process.

Through understanding how other creatures communicate this can bring an understanding of how humans communicate. Their body language and personal space can teach us of those aspects as a principle means of communicating. I once had the pleasure of watching a young lady with asperger's syndrome who was helped to understand her own body language and that of others through learning how to train a horse.

Emotionally it requires patience, determination, independence, empathy for the creature, self awareness, self regulation and self motivating in times of doubt, frustration and joy, all of which could squander the moment to experience something up close. Spiritually there is a sense of place, awe and wonder, a curiosity about the world beyond themselves and an interest to understand questions about life, death, purpose and thought. The nature of understanding and conversely, never understanding, aspects of our world through trying solving an intellectual query we are emotionally and/or socially invested with.

In addition, as with other outdoor provisions which engage people with nature, it can help build the most sustainable form of environmental sustainability, which is by allowing opportunity for the following generation to find their place within nature, to cherish it, to never question the importance of caring for it.

In summary, Tracking demands a keen mind, strong heart and willing spirit and through the challenges it presents, it can develop whole body, whole mind and whole self.

Author: Paul Moseley
Published on the Forest School Web Site on Thursday 13th January 2011

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