The New York Times
October 23, 1983, Sunday
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
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,
''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.''