Literacy and Tracking


A person could argue that most of the living world “reads” constantly. Like introverts in the library, we never want leave the constant unfolding stories carried by winds, scented earth, star positions, ocean currents, body languages. All beings – whether bears or bees, clouds or cormorants, lichen or lithic giants slumbering under the sky, we all read each other.

And yet the modern sense of reading – words in sentences, sentences in paragraphs, text that crawls from one page to the next until the book ends with a clap of covers, but always remains the same each time we look within – to me, this new “reading” has nothing to with the original reading at all.

Even worse, this new form of reading (and writing!) makes us terrible trackers. We expect words to “mean” what the dictionary says, and for these meanings to stay the same under different eyes.

The more I learn about tracking, the more I look for flows and forces, relationships and dynamics, within the soils and sands crushed underfoot. And yet I started out, in the very beginning, thinking, “that is a cat track”, “that is a bird track”, “that is a snake track”, and I do mean “is”, in violation of my e-prime habit.

In some ways this just points to a natural learning arc; in the beginning, we need clear sign-posts. As we mature, nuance and perspective enrich so much that we abandon our sign-posts.

I suppose one could engage a modern book in this same way; questioning every word, looking for forces and flows, juggling multiple interpretations.

My oldest tracking mentor, Tom Brown, Jr., often shares the perspective that his mentor in turn shared with him: “All earth moves like water”. As a Lipan Apache, water had a special meaning as a source of wisdom, as springs and seeps source life in the dry places.

Perhaps then, for reading we best assume all words, sentences, paragraphs, stories and texts, perhaps they all move like water too?

In any case, the joy, the thrill of entire worlds churning and sloshing within the track, waves crashing against currents all under the passing forces of beings about their business from one track horizon to the next, this for me describes the real world of tracking that awaits any who ask enough questions and court the tracks with an open heart.

Written by Willem