The Tracker - An Interview with
For the thousands of students who have attended Tom Brown Jr.'s tracking, nature and wilderness skills survival school it will come as no surprise that Hollywood would do a movie based upon Tom's incredible life. To those of you who have never heard of Tom Brown, Jr., you are in for a real treat. The movie has the action of the first Rambo movie, the "Force" and battle between good and evil of Star Wars, and the Native American wilderness setting and skills of Dances With Wolves. The difference, however, is that this is a factual story about a very real man.
At the age of eight, Tom Brown met a remarkable elderly man named Stalking Wolf, an Apache scout and shaman. Stalking Wolf was raised by Apache elders in the southwestern part of the United States and the mountains of Northern Mexico. He was perhaps the last Apache raised totally in the old way of living close to the earth, having never been on a reservation. He lived in the purity of the wilderness, learning physical survival skills in harsh lands and the spiritual truths that modern man's dogma, customs and traditions pollute or distort. Stalking Wolfs physical and spiritual abilities became legendary to his people. Before reaching the age of twenty, he was a scout, the eyes and ears of his people. Modern man has little accurate information about the Apache Scout, and if they did, few could believe the awesome physical and spiritual capabilities they possessed.
Stalking Wolf, called Grandfather by Tom Brown, Jr., had many powerful visions, one being that he was to spend his life learning the old ways of living close to and in harmony with nature, both physically and spiritually. Another was that his final mission in life was to pass these truths on to another, thus ensuring their continuity. He eventually left his people, and spent years searching for the common truths found in all religions and philosophies, the truths that bind all things together. After sixty years of wandering and searching from Canada to South America, he found the student he had seen in his vision as a young man, Tom Brown, Jr. Tom spent ten years as an eager student learning Stalking Wolf's skills, knowledge and ancient wisdom and is in turn spending his life passing them on, doing his part to preserve them for mankind.
Tom Brown, Jr. founded "The Tracker" tracking, nature & wilderness survival school about 15 years ago. It is located in Asbury, New Jersey. Tom's school offers 9 different week-long courses covering all aspects of living close to nature.
Some courses cover the physical wilderness survival skills. These classes gradually take the student to the point where he or she can enter the woods and live comfortably with no man-made supplies. The student learns how nature provides for all of our physical needs. The other group of courses stress the philosophical and spiritual aspects of living close to the Earth. Traditional Native American ceremonies such as the sweat lodge and medicine pipe ceremony are taught and experienced. In these classes, the student also learns to use and trust their own "inner vision" or sixth sense. All of Tom's courses are attended by both men and women from all over the country.
Although two different course tracks are offered, all classes incorporate nature awareness skills and the philosophical overtones of living close to Mother Earth. To quote from Tom's school brochure:
"I believe that to be "one" with the Earth, it is not enough to just have good survival skills, but a more rounded philosophy and skill level. That is why each of my courses cover equally the three major categories of survival: tracking, nature awareness, and the ancient philosophy of the Earth."
Tom is the author of 12 books. Seven are field guides for living in nature. The other books are based upon the life and adventures of Tom as a student of Stalking Wolf, tracker of criminals and searcher of spiritual truths. The upcoming movie is based upon Tom's first book,
The Tracker, a work full of real life adventures. The following quote from his latest book,
The Journey, tells us a lot about Tom Brown, Jr.:
"Mankind must reach a balance with nature and live in harmony where the quest for spirit is more important than the gods of the flesh. Unless we can change, and change quickly on both a physical and spiritual level, we all soon must face the Final Winter."
DH: Tom, is this movie going to cover adventures you've written about in your more recent books, such as
The Vision, The Quest and The Journey?
TB: Most of the movie's storyline is based upon my first book,
The Tracker. It is a story of a true-to-life criminal who is using toxic chemical barrels to import cocaine and animal parts. There are rhinoceros and elephant tusks and other illegal animal parts being smuggled into this country to be sold. The criminal realizes that no one will be inspecting the toxic chemical barrels as they enter the United States.
DH: Will people interested in the environment find the movie interesting?
TB: Oh yes! Definitely! And they'll learn from it. It will reach everybody - it will reach a kid. There are different levels in the movie. A kid can look at "Search for Red October" and have fun with it. But then, as you get up in age and experience, you'll find it goes to a deeper level, you're enjoying things a kid wouldn't even pick up on. In the movie, they want to leave the person in awe - moved by the wilderness and the plight of the wilderness. There is a flashback where you see Grandfather, Rick and me (as boys) sitting and talking in the Pine Barrens in a very lush, pristine and primitive camp. You see us burying a medicine bundle and Grandfather says "When it's time to pick up the lance, you'll dig this bundle from the ground." The camera focuses on a turquoise necklace around the tracker's neck and also one on Grandfather, which ties in later. Then the camera returns to the forty-two year old tracker following the trail of FBI agents. As the camera pulls back it records a scene of broken refrigerators, junk cars and oil spills.
The tracker thrusts his hand into the ground and comes up with the medicine bundle. It, of course, is the same place that once was so lush and pristine.
DH: A powerful message.
TB: Exactly. It's a very high impact thing when this medicine bundle comes back out of the ground and you look at the junk that's all over the place.
DH: That, plus the idea of the peaceful warrior who is reluctant to fight, but finally has to take up the spear.
TB: Yes, exactly!
DH: How do you feel about this
TB: I fought it for ten years. Then I realized how much the general public looks at the television set and movie screens - not only as a source of entertainment, but their God. So I figured that it was one heck of a weapon. Why not pick up the weapon that everybody else uses and use it to get a message across. This way I can reach people who may never get to my classes.
DH: From taking your philosophy classes, it sounds as if you are effectively using an instrument, which often is a big distraction, to transmit a spiritual message.
TB: Exactly - turning it inside-out. I don't care what this movie is going to do for my classes, I'm booked up enough as it is. The message is my big thing - Hollywood doesn't understand that. I'm not geared by finances, but by vision.
Fortunately, Bob Shay, owner of New Line Cinema, is, in a way, a visionary. I feel he wants to do a highly spiritual movie and he sees that the potential here is having the impact of something like "Dances With Wolves." Kind of an off-the-wall concept that blew the movie industry away. I guess he's tired of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Friday the 13th, etc. He's trying to now branch out to more serious movies and I admire him - he's very prudent in what he develops.
DH: Will the movie include the Native American philosophy of taking only what is necessary from the Earth and giving thanks for these gifts of nature?
TB: Definitely! The whole caretaker attitude is important. One of the characters is a big-city detective who is cynical about tracking and the woods - he's taking the place of the audience, As he becomes convinced, the audience becomes convinced. He plays a "hard guy" role. The tracker and detective are both trying to get rid of an illegal toxic chemical dump (like a case I was involved in years ago in Colorado) and a wealthy person was hiding it, taking government contracts while poisoning the land. I tracked his whole operation. At the end of the movie, the detective is thoroughly engrossed in the woods - a complete turnaround.
DH: Will your "inner vision, or what others call gut feeling or sixth sense, be found in the movie?
TB: Yes. There's a big scene where tracker and the detective are in the woods together and tracker says, "Don't go down this trail." The detective asks why and tracker says "because the forest told me that it's booby trapped." The detective says it's too far away to see traps and the tracker says, "I'm not looking for traps, I'm listening to the forest." The detective says, "I don't hear anything at all." The tracker replies, "There are two ways to listen, one with your ears and one with your heart." That builds throughout the movie.
There's also a scene where the chemical dump characters have dogs and we're de-scenting ourselves in a sweat lodge. The detective sees the image of grandfather in the mist and hears his vision. Previously, the detective thought the tracker was a wacko talking to ghosts in the forest - even the audience feels more than the detective. The sweat lodge experience is a big turning point in the detective's life.
DH: It sounds like "the force" of the Star Wars movies!
DH: Anything on life after death?
TB: Yes. There is a scene dealing with the white light, the tunnel of light. Due to an action of revenge, one of the tracker's dogs gets hurt and is near death. The tracker leads the dog to the white light and the dog dies while in this arms - an emotional and moving scene.
DH: In your book "The Journey," you show people how you can move your physical body from one place to another instantaneously, using spiritual methods. Will this scout skill be shown?
TB: Yes, that's one of the scout skills needed for the tracker to get into the compound where the criminal is running his illegal operation.
DH: That's pretty heavy for some people.
TB: Yes, but at least it shows the stealth and stalking ability, plus the tracking skills. What they will show with the camera is a hollow foot, computer generated, so you actually see the foot turning as the tracks is being made. This helps the audience understand what is going on in the tracker's mind and how he knows so much from a single footprint.
DH: After taking eight of your classes, I know the remarkable things you relate are real, but do you think the audience will believe such awesome capabilities existed in the Apache scout?
TB: Yes. There will be a statement at the end of the movie about the authenticity of everything - the skills, the tracking cases, all the experiences. I believe that's important to audiences.