HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 2, No. 2&3, Spring-Summer 1983

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 2 No. 2&3, Spring-Summer 1983

The Reward
Rick Shrack

I asked the Wind if it would be my friend. It said yes.

The smell of the evergreen forest was a welcome fragrance, something that was long overdue to my yearning nostrils. As I walked I saw all the trees with a new look, one of friendliness, not the accustomed unfamiliar look they so often received before. My destination was uncertain, as I did not bring a compass as I had so many times in the past. Night was coming quickly and I had not found a water source. It was a clear sky, so I threw down my bedroll and prepared for a spectacular natural light show. It was a good start to the week I had planned to practice many of the skills Tom had taught me in the Standard, #31, a "good medicine" class.

I don't know the time I woke up because I decided to "fast" from time. I had prepared a temporary breechcloth from an old towel and thought the present was as good a time as any to put it on. I would see how long I could stay comfortable in early September weather in the mountains.

I froze all movement when I caught a form out of the corner of my eye. An elk was walking slowly, eating a path toward a clump of trees 150 yards distant. Here I am in my birthday suit, holding my clothes, and one of nature's most majestic creatures is making her way within accessible reach. I dismissed the elk after she disappeared, for if my luck was like this the rest of my week, there would be many more opportunities to track fresh spoor. My spirit soared as I donned the temporary breechcloth, belt, a massive Bowie, and a bandanna headband.

Scouting the woods surrounding the elk meadow proved to be fruitful because I found a spring-fed reservoir behind the clump of trees which swallowed the elk. There was a protected hollow at the south end of the lake which lay in the northern reaches of the High Uintah Mountain Range. I had brought some food to insure eating, as I had not fasted before in my life. I did not want to rely totally on foraging because I really wanted to practice as many things as I could in what little time I had. The gully I had chosen would protect me from the gusty, high country winds. My debris shelter utilized spruce and fir boughs, grasses, and a parallel-veined, broad-leafed plant that was turning yellow. It was quite large and lay in a nearby marshy area. Harvesting them near their base yielded a very repellent source of debris that helped plug the holes left by the evergreen boughs. Never could identify that helpful plant!

Because of the warm days, I decided an extensive fireplace would be unnecessary for only a week. Live evergreen wood burned surprisingly well through the night, since there were no hardwoods nearby, and left a good solid bed of coals covered with white ashes. The camp became quite functional. A squirrel's curiosity of a suspended cone held him in place as a lucky throwing stick obtained a meal. As cloud cover gathered, I added more of the mystery plant and evergreen boughs to my hut until I thought it was sufficient. The wind carried an interesting exhilaration without the sun, but I did not feel cold -- yet. Rain never came, but I bathed in the solitude and truly enjoyed it.

A closer examination of the lake produced a poor attempt at raft building. Two logs, about 12 feet long and 8-10 inches in diameter, were spiked together by three smaller pieces of wood nailed equidistantly. It had been left high by the winter melt and I had to drag the makeshift contraption to the water. I rigged up an oar from a 2-inch log that had been ripped from a tree. Its base was flat and wider than its diameter, sort of a natural paddle in design. Returning to the water's edge, I noticed the wind doing its dance across the water's surface, lifting the peaks of the waves high as a floor would follow a ballerina's steps if it could. The raft had consequently moved while I was busy, and I had to retrieve it. It was water-logged and rode low in the water. I doffed my breechcloth and sat on the raft. It did not submerge enough to get wet, so I pushed off from shore. The paddle felt stout but natural as those I'd used for canoeing. The first stroke went well. Maybe this two-log raft wasn't as unstable as I had suspected after all. When the second stroke was executed, it started rocking the raft and I rolled over as if in a kayak. I got my all-over bath a few days earlier than I had planned. Hang that idea!

Nature observation occupied the remainder of the third day. Birds, chipmunks, insects, and a deer trail kept me quite busy until I retired that evening. It was very easy to sleep after a full day of mountain air, wind, sun and activity.

I was lazy the next morning, one of the wages of the simple life. I toyed with a model raft idea. It was obvious my real raft idea was all wet, to put it accurately. The sticks were held together by string I had brought in my possibles bag, and a broad fir branch made an adequate sail. I had to add ballast for the sail and then a makeshift rudder so the craft could pirouette. It worked.

The diversion had allowed me to think clearly of things one normally cannot in our rat race society. Thoughts meandered across my mind fluidly. Vivid recollections of the times passed were recounted and mulled over for speculation and contemplating the future. One thing was certain, and that was, I'd return to the mountains some day. Once I was shed of my debts and responsibilities, I would be able to return, forever, if I chose to. A decision was made. A life to live. But we must "live for the moment", came the voice of my medicine tracker/coyote teacher in my mind.

Another walk around the lake provided new adventures. A porcupine was gnawing or eating when I approached it. Its sloth-like movements were captivating. The portly fellow turned toward me and caught my scent, then it waddled away and balled itself up in a fire-opened stump for protection. I guessed it didn't want to leave its food source too far behind. I'm certain I could have remained to watch his subsequent actions, but I was anxious to encounter more and learn more in the little time I had. Besides, the porky wasn't exactly the first wild animal I wanted to try to touch.

Returning to camp, I crossed an unusual deer track that stepped up the shore at an angle. It was difficult to discern the gender of the muley, as I had no other tracks to identify with the rear track placement method and I had not enough dirt time for the pressure-release method of identification. The experience gained was certainly worth the effort spent. I loved the wages of this lifestyle. They were reward enough for forsaking twentieth century social standards and habits.

The following day allowed extensive rabbit-stick practice at a jack rabbit-size log. This skill needed honing because I knew the squirrel was a fluke. Since then I had felt a strange sense of sadness and kept to my own food. But this skill could still come in handy some day, so I practiced for a long time at it. Stalking also became an opportunity when I spied upon a small group of chipmunks feeding on grass seed heads some 50 feet beyond a stand of trees. I concentrated intently on the silence of my movements, and the little animals' alternating sentries. Within 5 feet, they shifted positions and one left. The breeze was in my favor as my final steps successfully brought me into the 18-inch circle which contained two of the ground squirrels. One scurried erratically, sensing danger. It looked at me but could not figure me out. Then it ran around the downwind side of me only scant inches from my sandaled left foot. When it caught my scent, all hell broke loose -- the amount of noise from such a tiny creature totally disguised its size. Nevertheless, it succeeded in breaking up the peaceable feeding chipmunks, as well as what I thought was a successful stalk. They all scolded me comically at a safe distance. I laughed at the cuteness of their reactions, how they jumped stiff-leggedly with each barking out-burst of prattle.

The majority of the hours of the day were I consumed by the rabbit stick and the long, laborious stalk. My leg muscles ached after the stalking exercise. But, although I did not get to touch a chipmunk, I had been satisfied with the learning process that accompanied just that pursuit. The concentration on the eyes and movement of the animals, the burning pain when caught in mid-step, and the endurance and patience required in the long stalk were all, surprisingly, mentally fatiguing. I had experienced all these things because of my intent to focus not on the ultimate goal, but on the requirements demanded by the stalk. No wonder Tom tells us not to center on our prey! If we are doing everything we should be, we don't have the time to concentrate on the final goal.

Rain never came till the dawn hours of the sixth day, but it didn't last long. Hot coals had survived the precipitation, and a fire soon boiled water in a Sierra cup for oatmeal. I picked up the rabbit sticks and threw repeatedly like a man possessed with a fever for perfection. After achieving a near-perfect success rate, I turned my attention toward my Bowie. It is a nine-and-a-half-inch bladed monster of extremely good steel, and a fine-crafted wood handle. A stout brass hilt had had angles at each end, but I had removed them and shortened the hilt so the knife would fit in a buckskin sheath I made to resemble those of the mountainmen of the beaver trapping era. When I had attained an excellent success rate with it at seven yards, I tried it just once more to see if I'd gotten the hang of it. Bullseye.

It was about time to prepare to leave, something I wished I didn't have to do. Preparation included filling my canteen, writing short thoughts of the experiences I'd had, and taking a bath. Morning would see the finishing touches of extinguishing the fire and insuring nothing of my stay remained.

There are days that are good medicine the moment you wake up, and there are days that are not. Mixed feelings invaded my mind. Camp broke quickly and easily as the sun peeked over the trees and I turned my back on the place I called home for a week. Not too far from camp I entered an open area, a meadow, covered with frost. I stopped in wonder because I still was wearing my breechcloth. The sun was warm. I felt good. I was not cold. Good medicine. "Thank you, Wind."

The walk was beautiful. I enjoyed the mountain vistas and the music of the birds. I was happy until I crested a rise. What I thought was a high country meadow turned out to be a trashed-out logging area probably left by outlaw loggers. Open garbage dumps, destroyed trees that were obviously useful, twisted skeletons of young trees, and dozer tracks everywhere were in view from any vantage point. I was moved by the destruction that interrupted the natural beauty. I angrily swore out loud but kept walking, following a horse trail I had picked up before the logging carnage came into view. Dozer roads plowed through aimlessly to dead-ends but the horse tracks gave me direction. I still walked as though I revered where I stepped even though it seemed no more harm could come to the area. I must have been blinded by the devastation, for I didn't see the sharp stick protruding from the trail. My foot needed stitches, but I would survive. It made me realize another thing I had become attuned to pain. The foot would take a long time to heal because I had to wear boots daily in my work. Bad medicine?

I put a half mile behind me when I entered a breath-taking meadow. A stream gurgled off to my left side, and as I hiked I took in the fragrances and the scenery simultaneously. My eyes gathered the movement of the local fauna and I heard what I could to remember this spot. The birds betrayed a motion beyond the trees. My attuned senses told me it was something large. I approached the trees only to hear the identifiable bleating of a herd of sheep. Dung was more obvious now, as was the distinctive odor of the sheep. The horse trail led me through the tree screen into the midst of the wooly creatures that stretched beyond sight. There must have been hundreds. I was not in the primitive area of the mountains, so I could not complain legally. Private lands were contracted to the shepherds and it was my risk I ran into them.

The sheep parted before me like the Red Sea as I followed the horse trail, Soon I saw the shepherd heading for his temporary corral. "Good morning!" I yelled, hoping for an amiable reply, but there was none. Surely he had heard me. My college Spanish history reminded me immediately how Basque sheepherders lived in the Rockies, so, I reasoned, why not the Uintahs?

"Buenos dias!" I tried again.

"Hola!" came the cheerful reply. "Come esta?"

Well, I had opened up the course of conversation but I did not know how I was going to continue with rusty college Spanish. I successfully made him understand I spoke the language quite poorly. He offered a cup of coffee which I graciously declined, since I can't even stomach the drink, and he did not seem offended. I established my position in relationship to my rendezvous point since three trails led out of the shepherd's camp. He asked if I'd seen any puma or bear, and I had set his mind to rest. He visibly showed signs of relief which pulled a chuckle from both of us. I learned he was from Spain and he had two horses, three dogs, a 30-30, and a trout line. He had over 200 sheep to care for. He said "Adios," but I corrected him by saying, "No, hasta Luego!". He smiled warmly and agreed. We waved as I left to climb the mountain, for I needed to reach a higher plain for my rendezvous.

At the end of my climb I saw the peaks of the highest mountains in Utah and turned around to see the high plains of Wyoming. What a natural high to expcrience sights as these! Suddenly I detected a subtle movement, and I looked up to see a golden eagle negotiating the wind nearly motionless as if held by a thread in the sky.

I was in a total state of elation as I walked to the sight I felt made a good rendezvous site. I cached my pack under a Mugo pine and checked out my surroundings for deer, sign. Tracks dominated an old logging road about a hundred yards from my cache. Barefoot now, I went into the stalk in case I caught deer feeding or resting. I searched and stalked for some time. I estimated a mile to a mile and a half of tracks before I decided to quit the stalk. Sign never got fresher.

Then my eyes saw a gem glowing in a deep ravine. A high country pool drew me, beckoned me to drink of its clear water, and as I came closer to the pure cairn, I saw the seepage of the spring feeding it. Now I lusted for a drink of the water. I knelt at its edge and lowered myself so my lips could touch the water's surface. But, before I could, my brain literally pounded a message to my consciousness to not take a drink of this water. My lust and goal-oriented attitude had blinded me. I sat back on my haunches and wondered why my body was telling me to refrain from drinking obviously good water. I noticed a white fuzz on the water and then flies buzzing erratically. Something was terribly wrong here. My eyes searched the shoreline until they fell on a large lump lying halfway in the water. It was a badly decayed sheep carcass. I was thankful my relationship with the earth-mother was good enough, close enough, to keep me aware of my body, to listen to what it had to say to me. The lack of movement of the danger involved was a good lesson in camouflage and stillness. So why was I so depressed ,when I had listened to my body? I really wanted a drink because I knew, without the carcass, the water would,have been safe. I turned away dejected and nearly stepped on a very large brown feather. A reward! And what a magnificent reward! I picked up the feather, assuming it was good medicine, and stuck it in my blue headband. Good medicine. Lila washtay.

But the story does not end here ...

After I had gone home, I called the Tracker Farm. I asked for Tom specifically because what I wanted to ask really needed his expertise. I talked to Judy and she said no one else was around. She told me to relate my story, which I did, and she didn't know if I had the legitimate right to wear the feather. All I could do was call back at some later date, so I left it at that, because I didn't know when I could call to catch Tom. I had to take my chances.

One morning before I left for work, I called the Farm again. Because of the time difference, it would be approximately ten in the morning there. A male voice answered, "Hello?"

"Tom?", I inquired.

"Rick?", asked the voice. Now it may not sound unusual yet, but Tom has had nearly 7000 students, and countless friends, and his family as well. So, how did he know it was me?

"Yes," I answered after a short pause.

"Wear it!", Tom said.

I inquired why, because I had never heard of this method of earning a feather. Tom explained that it was a reward for listening to my body. But one question remained: How do I know it really is an eagle feather?, Tom replied that the circumstances were such that there was no way it could be anything else. I thanked Tom for his help, and he wished me all good medicine, as always.

I asked the Wind to be my friend. Now I feel I owe it a favor.

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!