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The New York Times
October 23, 1983, Sunday
BOOKS, By Shirley Horner

HOW could anyone with the uncomplicated name of Tom Brown Jr. turn out to be as charismatic a figure as the 33-year-old author by that name?

In an interview at his home in the Warren County community of Asbury, the sandy-haired, denim-clad Mr. Brown looked every inch the personification of the healthy outdoor life that he advocates.

It was a change for him, he said, to be sitting in the comfortable living room of the yellow-frame Colonial house with his wife, Judy, and 5-year- old son, Tommy, nearby.

Further relaxing - shoes off, legs stretched out and resting on the coffee table - Mr. Brown spoke about ''long hours in the woods,'' planning and supervising a seven-day, sunup- to-sundown schedule of classes for thousands of students from all over the world.

According to Mr. Brown, this project, which he began in 1978, has evolved into ''the largest wilderness survival and tracking school in the United States.''

To enroll in Tom Brown, Tracker Inc., as the school is formally known, one must be 18 years old. The school, which has a permanent staff of eight instructors, offers one-week programs the year round both in Warren County and the Pine Barrens.

''Some day, I'd like my school to be completely in the Pine Barrens vicinity,'' Mr. Brown said, ''because that's where it all started when I was 7 years old.''

To date, this educator-author has described the ''art of survival'' in four books published by Berkley Books. The first was ''The Tracker: The True Story of Tom Brown Jr., as Told to William Jon Watkins'' ($5.95).

The brochure for Mr. Brown's school states:

''We strongly recommend that you read Tom's books before attending. This school is not for everyone!''

This is likely to prove good advice, for Mr. Brown says that tracking is more than just examining tracks left by a human or animal. One also learns from his books that Mr. Brown's pantheism - his strong identification with all forms of natural life - developed out of a 10-year friendship with an elderly Apache scout named Stalking Wolf (the grandfather of Mr. Brown's boyhood friend Ricky).

As valid a presence as he was when alive, Stalking Wolf often dominates Mr. Brown's books. If, as the author writes, the Pine Barrens, close to his boyhood home in Beachwood, Ocean County, was his ''true school,'' his library, his university and his mentor through it all was Stalking Wolf, who taught both youngsters ''the most ancient of mankind's skills - to track, to stalk, to live in the woods and to survive there.''

On the day of the interview, Mr. Brown had promised a demonstration of ''some of the basic survival skills'' to a group of about 25 second-graders from Buckingham Friends School in nearby Lahaska, Pa.

''Growing up with a strong attachment to the woods, as I did, means leading a double life,'' Mr. Brown recalled. ''All the time I was going to school, I was fighting boredom from conventional, dry lessons and anticipating the patient, yet challenging, teaching about nature's secrets that was Stalking Wolf's way.''

''Go and ask the mice.'' So says Mr. Brown in ''The Tracker'' in relating what Stalking Wolf would say when a track, a trail or a skill eluded the two youths.

It meant, he explains in the book, that ''once we knew the pattern of life for the mice, we knew the pattern of life for everything that eats mice.

''The mice led us beyond their mystery to the mystery of the way the lives of the animals were interdependent . . . to an idea of how the whole fabric meshes together.

''When you can see that pattern, you can see the spirit that moves through all things instead of merely catching isolated flashes of its motion.''

In 1977, at the age of 27, Mr. Brown says in ''The Tracker,'' his love of the forest had created a gap between himself and people ''who asked over and over why I wasn't in college, why I didn't have a permanent 9-to-5 job, why I wasted so much of my time running around in the Pine Barrens, and I had begun to wonder if perhaps my life really was a waste, after all.''

One time ''stands out above all others,'' Mr. Brown says in his book, because in that year he ''found himself'' and a ''lifetime purpose'' on searching for, and finding, a retarded man who had been missing in the Pine Barrens for five days.

''I cried with him,'' he writes, ''because he was there and alive. If my life ended in the next instant, all the years I had spent learning to track had been justified.''

Published reports of Mr. Brown's skill at tracking fugitives and lost people have led some, he says, ''to think of the evolution of my school and its emphasis on nature observation in purely sensational terms, a complete contradiction of my intent.''

Descriptions of such searches are in his second book, ''The Search: Tom Brown Jr., With William Owen'' ($5.95).

''The Search'' also gives an often touching account of how Mr. Brown fell in love with his wife-to-be in 1978 and with her two children, Kelly and Paul, and of how she encouraged him to begin what was then ''a modest school for survival and tracking.''

Mr. Brown tells his students to survive by licking water ''from the stone and grass'' and to notice everything ''as every animal, bird and insect might see and hear it.''

''I hope that you will begin to see your relationship to the earth, which sustains you, and find yourself and your roots.'' he advises.

''Stalking Wolf gave me this injunction before his death in 1970,'' Mr. Brown said, terming the recently published first two volumes of his projected wilderness guide series as a continuing fulfillment of that charge. They are ''Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival'' and ''Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking'' (written with Brandt Morgan and $6.95 each).

They are not only rich in instruction, but as stirring as their author in their promise - as he writes in the second volume - of the ''joy of living in the moment'' that follows when we ''become more aware of nature.''

''To many people,'' Mr. Brown said, ''autumn is a sad time, a time of decay and dying. These are my favorite months because they demonstrate the full splendor of nature.

''No, the falling leaves are not wasted, but, in turn, are enriching the soil for next summer's leaves.''

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