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By Anton Ferreira (Reuters)
ASBURY, N.J., May 11, 1987

On the New Jersey frontline of his personal crusade to save the earth, a man with a vision is teaching Americans to carve arrowheads from broken beer bottles.

Tom Brown, 37, who dubs himself "the Tracker," runs a survival school about 90 miles west of New York City where he passes on wisdom learned during his youth from an old Apache called Stalking Wolf.

"My vision is to teach people how to live with the earth," he told a recent class of 30 students, ranging from a ballroom dancing instructor to an ex-accountant turned organic farmer.

Most of the students were nature lovers seeking to learn more about the outdoors, developing skills as elementary as identifying poison ivy and as subtle as tracking a deer.

But Brown had a more serious message: pollution and urban sprawl were threatening the future of the earth.

"Earth is a living being, a manifestation of the Creator," he said, warning students that mankind was killing the planet by poisoning underground water reserves which he called "the Earth Mother's blood supply."

By the end of the century the major U.S. grain producing area would be without water, he said. "Then there'll be no food ... we're bringing Africa to the United States."

He tries to prevent this by teaching people to live in harmony with nature, as the Native Americans, Australian aborigines and African bushmen did.

In lectures laced with philosophy learned from Stalking Wolf, he encourages his students to put the trappings of the modern world behind them.

"A survival situation is the only way you can ever hope to achieve total oneness with the Earth Mother," he said.

His idea of a survival situation is walking naked into the wilderness, summer or winter, and living off the land indefinitely and in comfort.

"If it's a debilitating experience, then your skills aren't good enough," he told the class.

The skills he teaches include using stone tools, building warm shelter from forest debris, making fire without matches, obtaining water from plants or condensation and tanning hides.

Another was chipping arrowheads from broken beer bottles, which one of Brown's half-dozen instructors said were likely to be found in even most remote American wilderness.

Primitive skills don't come cheap -- the residential course costs $500 -- but many participants thought the money so well spent they said they would return for an advanced course.

During his 10 years with his Apache mentor, Brown mastered such feats as stalking wild animals to within touching distance and he promised his students that they could do the same.

He teaches stalking techniques, but adds that such physical skills are only 20 per cent of the art. The rest is spiritual and involves raising the consciousness and improving awareness.

He said one way to help see "the spirit that moves in all things" was the sweat lodge, a sacred religious ceremony of Native American tribes which physically resembles a sauna.

Red-hot rocks were stacked in the center of a low dome built from saplings and straw, and the students crouched bathed in sweat as Brown splashed on water to create steam.

Alternating between English and the haunting language of Stalking Wolf, he prayed to the Earth Mother and urged the congregants to take up the warrior's staff in her defense.

In teaching trapping and hunting, he emphasizes the Native American belief that all things, plant, mineral and animal, share the same spirit and are brothers.

"An animal's life is the ultimate gift, you should take it only if your survival depends on it."

To the novice tracker, Brown's skills appear near miraculous. In one demonstration he crouched on a hard-packed driveway and pointed out a barely visible compression.

"Left rear print of an Eastern Cottontail rabbit," he said. "Passed by here two nights ago, six weeks old."

The students, who by the end of the course regarded Brown as a kind of nature guru, accepted such judgments as gospel.

Brown, who is contemptuous of those who put safety and comfort above adventure and excitement, said he once wanted to retreat into the woods but stayed in New Jersey so he would never forget what was happening to the environment.

"These are the front lines of a war we are losing ... but I could never run away from it."

His fears about the fate of the earth are based on close observation of nature over 30 years.

"We face some of the most profound problems that humankind has ever been faced with ... so far-reaching that some doubt we can turn the tide.

"Go out there and make a difference," he exhorted students at the end of the course. "Lead somebody back."

This website has no official or informal connection to the Tracker School or Tom Brown Jr. whatsoever


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