What Deserves Knowing

pressure release sweep head position

A track reveals the maker swept their eyes from neutral to down and forward right, to look at something on the ground a couple feet away.

The world of tracking still appears small – but compared to just five years ago it has grown huge. Huge enough to contain many conflicting opinions  – but then again, almost from the beginning, trackers differed on ‘what is worth knowing’ [sic] – what deserves our attention and curiosity.

The larger world of science worries and mumbles over this issue too – in fact, few issues does it worry over more. ‘What is worth knowing?!’ asks the scientist. “Certainly not pseudoscience and superstition!”

But before that, the church worried over this too – the urge to know about something not deserving our knowing inspired cries of ‘heresy!’ (as famously experienced by Galileo, along with many wise women and men who served their villages and land and died in fire as the churchmen watched).

In this culture of labeling things worth or not worth knowing – what science calls pseudoscience, the church might call heresy, the person-in-the-street might call “a waste of time”. The scientist risks their academic reputation, the churchgoer risks their divine soul, the person-in-the-street risks their ability to…well Thoreau has probably written everything a person needs to know about what that person is risking. “Time is money” [sic! and sick!] after all.

Back to the culture of tracking I participate in – believe it or not, some trackers too think some lines of questioning have value, and some don’t. For example, pressure releases – the idea that soil liquefies under sufficient pressure from a foot, and instantly expresses an ornate interwoven field of waves and branching forces that then freeze when that pressure is removed, the surface of this flash-frozen churning pond documenting the makers every movement, thought, and emotion…

For some this just goes too far.

pressure release tracking head position

Track reveals maker looked to their forward and right downwards, but at something several feet away, and without any sweep of gaze. Note shadowed deepest fourth toe with textured surface on the floor of the toe’s track, different than any of the others, along with light flaring white at the track horizon where wall was pressured.

Well, and who can blame them really. But I still don’t have any patience for someone who sorts through every room in this palace of glittering mysteries that we call reality deciding that this can stay and that must go – this we can know, that we must throw away as foolishness.

Many trackers I run into have more in common with modern birders (a tremendous skilled and expert bunch of citizen scientists) than with what I’ve come to call ‘tracking in a lineage’, or indigenous tracking. I don’t claim myself any indigenous heritage – far from it, as a guest on this land in the Pacific Northwest of North America, I daily work to do right by both the land herself, and the indigenous peoples still alive and still fighting for that land and its people.

Let’s say instead that the kind of tracking I do has more in common with what old time indigenous trackers value than what highly skilled modern trackers do.

I’ve learned tremendous amounts from peers in this modern world of tracking – I feel a deep thanks to them. And yet…

So rarely does it demand what I demand, does it ask what I ask, does it plea for what I plea:

What I learn in this moment, may it not just teach me one thing, but may it teach me about the nature of all things, about love, about family, about living a good life, about the deep voices in the void who speak to me.

So, as I study pressure releases, in the lineage of tracking that comes from Tom Brown, Jr. and his teacher, I think about birders who too have followed a lineage carried by Jon Young and his work with bird language.

As I examine the viscoelasticity of the soil, the rheology of the hertzian cones rippling out from the 4-beat-rhythm impact points of heel-ball-blade-toe, as I see the soil transparent like water and the churning turbulence and deep currents in its depths, all expressively texturing and undulating the track floor, that membrane that separates two worlds much like my own skin, as these tell me about the movements, thoughts and emotions of the maker, I think to myself, “just imagine if I did not consider this worth knowing?”, and a wave of mixed feelings of exasperation and acceptance, of celebration and gratitude come over me.

In the end, what do we lose when others despise and mock what we love? We do lose something surely, it does indeed injure the soul. And yet the garden of wonders beckons us once again and we must go.

Written by Willem