HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 1, No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 1 No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

Dispensing with Labels to See Better
Jim Ballard

There is a difference between orienting ourselves to our environment and seeing our environment. Much of the time we just orient ourselves. We move from one room of our house to another without really seeing. We fail Ito notice the pattern of the carpet, the color of the chairs, the doorway. Outside we walk by the same storefronts, day after day, and seldom stop to give the in a close inspection. We become careless with how we see.

Tom Brown was lecturing at his wilderness survival workshop when he noticed a red fox dart between two buildings outside, hundreds of yards away. It happened in a split second, unexpected. Tom caught the quick motion of the animal because he was taking in more than the small room filled with students. He had trained himself to be aware of this kind of movement and color, no matter where he was or what he was doing.

"Real seeing" is seeing like a child. He is unburdened with labels. He has no conception of exactly how things are or should be, and he openly explores his surroundings. I remember watching in awe as a two-year-old, standing in his crib, reached out and tried to touch a ribbon of light that granted across the wall. Again and, again he tried to grasp this new form in his hands. Most of us, I'm sure, would have failed to even see this band of light.

That other people in different cultures see uniquely is no surprise. When the Nunamiut Eskimo hunts, he slips into a state of supreme concentration highly attentive to detail. His survival depends upon not only seeing an animal's tracks, but their depth, shape, age. He studies the bend of grass along the trail, bits of animal hair scattered about, the movement of ravens in the distance.

Sometimes, it is difficult to see what is directly in front of us. We cannot discriminate nearly as well as the Nunamiut. As a photographer, I have had numerous occasions to project my slides to a roomful of people. Many of the images are so tightly cropped that surrounding elements are not visible. The students are introduced to colors, I shapes and textures of ordinary objects. They seldom recognize them. When I explain that they have been looking at three ice cubes or the slice of an onion, they are often startled. Something so commonplace having those colors, those patterns, such beauty. A surprise!

It is this kind of surprise that we can each offer to ourselves no matter where we are -- in our home, our neighborhood, a forest or desert, or any strange environment. We can learn to see like the Nunamiut Eskimos, like Tom Brown, like children. We can train ourselves to dispense with labels and open our eyes to the newness of our surroundings.

For each of us there is the challenge of walking through a woods that is filled not with pines, firs, hemlocks, but with exquisite hues, shapes, movement. When we can walk through a forest discovering these things, we will have readied ourselves for each drop of a leaf, crack of a twig, or overturned stone. We will have stopped orienting ourselves and be truly seeing.

Previous     Contents     Next

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


The Tracker magazine:   Vol 1 No. 1  •  Vol 1 No. 2  •  Vol 1 No. 3  •  Vol 1 No. 4  •  Vol 2 No. 1
Vol 2 Nos. 2 & 3  •  Vol 3 No. 1  •  Vol 4 No. 1 

Tom Brown Jr.    Tracker School    Publications    The Tracker Magazine
True Tracks    Tracks of the Tracker    Mother Earth News

The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!