Building a Community of Trackers

3239638494_00685e76dbPhoto Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

Right now, the sense of expansion and enrichment in the tracking community has really amazed me. Over the past few decades a few different schools of thought have emerged in North America, exemplifying different styles and values about the utility and purpose of tracking. I myself have noticed trackers originating from the border patrol community, search and rescue community, conservation biology and academic community, and the rewilding communities.

Each of these communities has its own heroes, its own gurus, and its own technical jargon. The members of these communities tend to share amongst themselves their own reasons for getting out to wild places.

For many of us who feel that Tracking itself has more value than any one of these communities, we’ve had a hard time communicating and passing along our skills. ISPT, the International Society of Professional Trackers, came about as one organization established for exactly this – to connect the disparate communities of tracking.

However, in my own corner of the world of Tracking (which includes the folks at Rewild Portland  and surrounds), the folks at Cybertracker have had the greatest impact on my own little community of trackers coming together and refinding our inspiration for this amazing art and science. Through their tracker certification program, we have had more excitement, adventure, and conversations lately than I can remember us having in quite a while – as a community.

And it has all happened from a test.

From schooling, many of us tend to think of tests as something awful, something to avoid, perhaps even something to game and cheat so that we get the desired grade. These schooling tests of course do no-one any good. They judge, praise and condemn, but beyond that we drop them and move on.

However, a test that tells you what you next need to learn – that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And every time you take it, you  just discover more and learn more about what to learn next.

This test compares exactly with the ACTFL language profiency test that defines and drives my work at Language Hunters.

The tracking community used to feel fairly aggressive and hollow – a bunch of folks pretending to know a lot, who either hid their knowledge or bragged about it. Though certain folks focused entirely on the mentoring traditions of tracking, still many of these teaching/learning relationships fell flat. I’ve heard many of my fellow trackers talk about the frustration and hollowness of the “I don’t know, what do you think?” strategy for passing on tracking skills.

And yet, with this Tracker Certification test, we do almost exactly that – an instructor establishes a bunch of tracks and sign that will serve as quiz questions. Then you try to answer, then the evaluator tells you what they see. But without the false sense of “mentoring”, the quasi-coyote relationship with a stranger or pseudo-mentor holding a bit more dirt-time over your head. You never really knew what skills your pseudo-mentor actually had – and the condescension of their mentoring style caused resentment. But to learn from someone who actually knows their stuff (and we know how much they know because we have a way to get feedback on how much we know – whew!), and shares it – rather than holding it back as some kind of eternal carrot just out reach – feels really nourishing.

Questions create vacuums, we know this. Vacuums accelerate learning, this we know too. Friendship, laughter, and community accelerates learning too. Somehow, rather than pretending to “mentor” each other, preparing for a test has done all this for us. A test that you don’t just take once – but you take again and again, climbing the ladder of dirt-time and skill.

This gives us a lot to think about, as mentors, as parents, as peers, as communities. We haven’t finished building a culture of tracking yet, not by a long shot.

Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

Written by Willem