|ESS participants demonstrate a walk, trot, and bound.|
This week for Earth Skills Seminar we took advantage of the beautiful snow and continued our discussion of tracking. Our theme for the day was trailing – how to interpret a string of animal tracks. All animals can do all gaits, though some animals prefer to do move in particular gaits when traveling from A to B (people walk, dogs trot, cats stalk, squirrels hop, weasels lope, raccoons lumber). The best way to get familiar with these patterns is by pretending to be them.
We had the good fortune of running into a friend out with her dog. Trevor demonstrated for us a trot, gallop, and walk. He even gave us a pronk! Along with imitating animals, seeing the animal make tracks and then studying those tracks is one of the best ways to learn.
Below is a quick survey of our investigative questions when looking at tracks. While the list is incomplete it shows a trend towards deeper level questions. As a tracker, I was trained to first distill facts and details from the animal’s footprints. These pieces, taken over a longer period of time and wider geographic range begin to fit together into coherent patterns. This is where the evidence begins to become a story. And then, as a reporter would do, we tie it all together by explaining why and how the scene occurred as it did.
Below I’ve combined the Pieces Patterns Processes framework Jeff Hughes taught me with Jon Young’s six arts of tracking questions.
1. Who? The question of identification (species, gender, age of animal, etc.)
2. What? The question of interpretation (gait pattern)
3. When? The question of aging (time of year, seasonal behaviors)
4. Where? The question of trailing (landscape patterns, where is it not, where is the animal now)
5. Why? The question of ecology (why did this happen, deep ecological time explanation)
6. How? The question of empathy (how is the animal feeling)