A Tracker's


Introductory Exercise 6:

Moving with Awareness

In this exercise, you’ll take the attentiveness you experienced in exercise 2 and move with it at your trailing site, whether or not you find and follow a trail.

Before you do the exercise, let’s discuss two general points about how to move on a trail without obliterating the tracks in case you do find a trail and use this exercise there:

  1. When you first spot a track, stand to one side of it to locate the tracks behind and ahead of it.  If you stand directly behind it, as we often do on a trail, then we risk wiping out the backtrail, which can help us to understand the animal's gait and precise direction of travel.
  2. Walk on the trail but not on the tracks.  I spent a long time moving beside trails in order not to impact them.  It was hard for me to see trails then, and I was frustrated a lot.  Then, I was taught to walk on the trail and to avoid stepping on the tracks.  It is easier to see the trail when you walk on it.  It is easier, too, to see and so to feel how the animal was moving when it made the tracks.  I didn’t get frustrated as often when I did it that way.  I recommend that you walk on the trail and have awareness for where the tracks are so that you can avoid stepping on them.

So far as I can tell, attentiveness is something we deepen over a very long period of time, though perhaps as infants we come into the world with it fully operational.  Attentiveness, mindfulness, awareness are not to be achieved in a single exercise or even in a few of them.  They may not be something to “achieve” at all.  Attentiveness is, however, an essential part of trailing.  Therefore, we must keep the fullness of our attention at the front of our practice.  The achievement of our goal here depends on it.  We might get a view of our quarry simply by coincidence.  To get that view as a result of intentional practice depends on our attentiveness.  Our safety depends on our attentiveness.

It helps me to learn to move with attentiveness if I practice it like I practice dance steps.  After enough practice, the steps are in my body; I don’t need to think about them anymore.  There is, then, simply the rhythm of movement, the momentum of doing it over time and space: I feel attached to the trail as if by a rubber band.  To lose sight of the tracks, then, is okay.  I have techniques for relocating the tracks, and as I go through those techniques, I still feel the rubber band; I am drawn by the elastic.  When I find the tracks, I come back onto the trail with no frustration, no sense of time lost, no feeling of ever going off the trail.  I have been dancing all this while, you see, and the animal is my lead.

In such a moment, I work.  I work like a flashlight works.  You turn it on, and it works.  I dance the trail, and I work.  It is sad to think that I ever conceived that perhaps I did not work.  You see, maybe inattentiveness is nothing at all but the illusion that we are not fully aware of ourselves and the whole wide world around us.

However it may work to come to fullness of attention, here is the essential form of the dance for trailing:

  1. When you move, move with your head up and your senses open to the periphery.
  2. If you need to look down, then stop in order to do it.  As long as you are looking down or are focusing in a tight area around yourself, you should be in place.  You can turn to the sides or all the way around while looking down.  Try not to move forward or backward along the trail unless you are looking up.  I would even encourage you to practice looking up in order to squat or to change your vertical position.  So, try also to look up when you stand or squat, at which point, you can look down again.  Try to see the tracks and trail 5-10 yards ahead of you.  As you move, you can let your eyes shift back and forth between that position and your horizon.
  3. Move quietly.

When you are looking out at the landscape, look peripherally and with all your senses open.  Allow the senses to focus as they will, and then come back to sensing the periphery.  If it helps to look for something, look for the quarry, since that’s our goal.  The important thing, though, is simply to open the senses and to be flexible in how the senses focus on specifics and then return to peripheral sensing.

This is the way to move around a trailing site whether you’re on a trail or no.  When you wander, looking for a trail, it is still useful to practice full attentiveness.  So, try it when you go to your spot.

Note reflections in your journal.

© Nate Harvey, 2015