HomePublicationsTrue TracksFall 1999

True Tracks - Fall 1999

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Contents

Coyote Classes Are a Huge Hit
Bow Drill Drama - Ruth Ann Colby Martin
Brain Patterning, Journaling, and Tracking - Kevin Reeve
Preparing for the Advanced Standard - Tom McElroy
A Sustainable Lifestyle for Everyone - 'Ninja' Joe Lau
Responsibility Confronts Us Daily - Nancy Klein
Mother Earth on a String: A Youthful Vision - Jon Young
Student Gives Coyote Class Rave Review - Nathan Hirshberg
A Message From Tom Brown, Jr. - Tom Brown Jr.
Getting to Know Plants Involves Details - Betzy Bancroft
Letter to the Editor
RRR Corner - Ruth Ann Colby Martin
Sticks and Stones

 

 

Coyote Classes Are a Huge Hit

About the best - and only - word to sum up Tracker School's summer Coyote classes for young men and women is AWESOME!

More than 160 people, including children 8-12 years old and teens ages 13-17, as well as parents (who accompanied the younger group), took part in a first year program that featured three separate sessions.

The classes were held at a picturesque site in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey. Run in cooperation with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the classes ran six days each.

 
A group of teens enjoy the moment at the Coyote program.

Not only did participants gain new knowledge about the wilderness, but many were also treated to bear and other unique wildlife sightings.

The students came from throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. In the first class, held for teens, many students made the trek from California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Florida, Maryland and Canada.

The staff, under the direction of Jon Young, did a splendid job of putting together an invigorating program that earned rave reviews from all of the participants, as well as long-time Tracker staff.

"I am so proud of everyone who obviously put their heart and soul into making this program work," said Tom Brown, Jr. "This is an important extension of my vision. Children are our future and it is imperative that we reach them as well as adults."

 

The classes were taught within a coyote culture and in a mentoring style first taught to Young by Brown, and now promoted by Young, the founder of the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington.

"We gave the kids an opportunity to do what they enjoy doing, in the process allowing them to learn many valuable lessons," said Young. "They played, created, and followed the unlimited trails of adventure that Mother Nature has to offer. Our goal was to give them a foundation upon which to build on and from the responses we've received, I believe we attained that goal."

The skilled instructors facilitated a learning culture that guided students into experiences that nurtured their natural connection to the Earth. Students worked together in tight-knit groups with the instructors, learning and sharing the skills that allow them to feel at home in the natural world: fire, shelter, water, understanding the language of the birds, animal trailing, wandering, living and working with others, and much more. The children came out of the program with a burning passion to learn and grow.

According to Brown, you can expect to see more classes for younger students next summer, including advanced courses for those who participated this summer.

 

 

Bow Drill Drama
Ruth Ann Colby Martin

I stand, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, looking around, trying, as my mother would have demanded, not to stare. On our honeymoon, my husband Dave and I are on a camping/hiking safari deep in the Tanzanian bush. Today is the day I've most looked forward to-a visit to a hunter/gatherer tribe of which there are about 700 left. We have driven two days past the last "town" or road of any sort-we have been driving, literally, through the bush.

I see three huts. A grandfather sits gently carving an arrow while his 2year old grandson looks on. The women are out gathering Baobab fruits and the men are out gathering honey. The sons begin playing with their bow and arrows, shooting a log, throwing it, shooting it again. The woman sits by her hut and stares, unsure whether to trust us. The husband and another teenage male wave us over, cautious, like the wife, but more curious.

I am white, glaringly foreign, English-speaking, well-dressed (as formerly British, Tanzanian culture demands) and wielding a camera after having driven into their serene wilderness camp in a Land Rover. I want desperately to fall to my knees and beg "Teach me, Grandfather!" But instead, I am riveted to the ground, awkward and embarrassed. They do not understand my appearance, the camera or vehicle, where I came from, how or why I came to their home. And I cannot explain myself. I cannot tell them that in our rich, developed country, people are lost and unhappy and I am on a quest to return to a simple life close to the land; I am here to learn from them and to honor their lives.

The man drops to the ground and sharpens his knife on a stone. Then he picks up an arrow, the head having been removed and tied to the end so as not to be lost, fits it onto a narrow stick and, catching my eye with the faintest hint of a twinkle, begins to spin the stick between his hands. His son pulls a bit of grass from the roof for tinder. A wisp of smoke rises from the twirling stick. He shuns the grass and pushes coal into his clay pipe instead, puffs hard, then sits back, enjoying the true need for fire in Africa. He smiles, waiting for the white people to get all excited like they usually do when he lights his pipe.

But this is familiar. People, barefooted and sitting on the ground with knives and projects, making fire, resonates home within me. The man offers the hand drill to me, the boys giggle and I accept. I remove my rings, spit on my hands and float my best hand drill technique. Smoke rises up and the males' jaws drop. Suddenly, we are not their average alien whitefolk.

I hold up the drill and ask "Fire? Firetree?" Our guide helps translate these words the best he can and we are off, following the young man to the tree they use for fire. Dave and I pull out our knives and out of peripheral vision, note their jaws drop again.

In a few minutes, we have a bow drill set carved and I ask for cordage whereupon a rawhide string is produced. Not wanting to ruin this precious resource, I unlace my bootstring instead. The voices around me are raising with wonder as I say "fire" with so many pieces in front of me. Here, where it is warm and dry, a hand drill suffices and they do not understand this complexity.

I carefully wind the spindle, place my handhold, and begin to draw the bow. In an instant, they get it, and fall backwards with laughter and excitement. The smoke billows before I stop to stick the spindle in my ear to grease the end, glancing up to catch the husband's eye. The twinkle there is full blown now, as he grins from ear to ear.

 
Ruth Ann displays her talents in the African bush The young man seems eager, so I hand him the set. He mistakenly winds the spindle inside the bowstring, but I do not have to say a word. These native men who understand concepts and relationships of angle, pressure, space, friction, have already observed the technique and remember well enough to correct the youngster's mistakes. I am amazed, yet not, knowing how difficult it is for modem folks to get these concepts. The spindle pops out. A second fellow attempts and the spindle pops out. Our guide can't manage all the pieces either. Finally the husband fits the drill together and runs the bow twice before the spindle pops-he laughs and tosses it away, embarrassed, for it did not even smoke. He catches my eye, smiling. I am sitting in the dirt, sweaty and barefoot, black char in my ear and on the side of my nose. His eyes are open wide and smiling and I look deep into them and smile. He knows.

The women have returned from food-gathering and glare at us from a distance, untrusting, not understanding. But I know that I have made a friend. He knows why I have come.

 
 

When it is time to go, the man offers the hand drill to me and our guide says it is a gift. The boy begins to unwind my bootstring from the bow, for my boot is floppy without it. I insist he leave it there on the ground. We are not supposed to give the Hadza people gifts, for it sets a bad precedent, so I don't, I simply leave it on the ground.

Some people say I may be responsible for introducing the bow drill to Tanzania. I see that the bow drill became more than just a fire tool that day. It became a catalyst between two hearts, two cultures, two times and places and therein spoke a true language; it bridged the unspeakable gap.

I would like to give a special thanks to the Tracker Staff for allowing me to take this trip.

 

 

Brain Patterning, Journaling, and Tracking
Kevin Reeve

As a parent, I have had the opportunity to observe the development of my children's thought processes. As I have observed my children at various stages and through a variety of situations, several things have become apparent. Today's educational system is not designed to teach children to utilize their brains to the fullest extent. While that may be a controversial statement, let me add that not much else in our society does this either. TV is the worst offender in this respect. Video games, shopping malls, radio, this list goes on to include much of what our children do.

Quite a while ago, Tom and I were sitting around talking and the subject of 60's TV shows came up. I mentioned several of my favorite programs from that era. He did not have a clue to what I was talking about. While I was rotting my brain to Batman, Bewitched, and the Wild Wild West, Tom was tracking with Stalking Wolf and writing down everything he learned in a journal. The result is not just that he can track better than I ever will because he spent all that time tracking. I believe it goes deeper than that. His brain was patterned differently than mine. Tracking and other primitive skills change the way we use our brains in a way that few other things in our society do. I believe they open new neural pathways, in essence new ways to think. And the process of journaling these experiences reinforces and solidifies those new neural pathways. In essence, I believe tracking makes you smarter.

So, what do I mean by smarter? I believe that those pattern their brains in this manner develop a more holistic thinking ability. Tracking is a combination of spatial, logical, audio, visual, kinesthetic, and intuitive learning processes. It requires a constant iteration between logic and intuition. For example, you cannot track without developing greater awareness of the web of life. Once you figure out that the fox looked left, you want to understand why it looked down that particular run. Studying that run leads you to understand the habits of the rabbit. Understanding the habits of the rabbit leads you to understand the seasonal cycle of the grasses, and thus it goes. You will never exhaust the possibilities.

This type of thinking is not typical in our society any more. In our age of TV advertising and Internet ordering, when we want something, we want it want it easy. If there is a shortcut, we want it. No one has written "Nature for the Complete Idiot" simply because the concept of learning these rich relationships fast and easy is an impossibility. In fact, tracking is in my opinion, the most fundamental of the so called primitive skills because it creates such unique thought processes (at least bv our current standards). This means that if we as a society want to develop new ways of solving the problems we have created, we may need to go back to tracking. As Einstein was fond of saying, "You will never solve a problem using the same thought processes that created it in the first place."

POST SCRIPT

I would love to develop a means of testing this hypothesis, but the diagnostic tools available now do not measure what tracking teaches. Therefore, while I want to test my hypothesis, I cannot until more brain research is done. I am looking for tools that will measure percentage of brain usage, brain patterning and neural patterns. There are some new tools that might work, but their costs are prohibitive. So if any of you work in a research lab and can take SPECT scans, please let me know.

 

 

Preparing for the Advanced Standard
Tom McElroy

If you're like most students here, you probably felt a bit overwhelmed after your Standard Class. As Tom has said, it takes about ten years to master all Of the skills taught in the Standard. Over the years, I've talked to many students here who were very confused on how to prepare for the Advanced Standard because they didn't know what to focus on. So, what I would like to do here is offer my own recommendations on how to prepare. I've also highlighted each one so you can cross each off as you complete each new skill.

First and foremost, I recommend you get good at building a debris hut. Why? Well, because you will be living in one throughout the week of the Advanced Standard and you will be much more comfortable in the class if you already have some experience with this shelter. This class is intense and it definitely helps to have a lot of quality sleep. So I recommend that you build at least one debris hut and sleep in it overnight. Make sure you journal what problems you have so we can help you when we see you.

 
Heather Tucker of Ashland, WI peeks out of a debris hut I also strongly urge you to keep working on bow drill. But not just the one you made in your Standard Class. (Although you should definitely keep practicing it.) Take it further. Try going into the woods with a small knife and make a completely natural bow drill apparatus. Don't worry about getting a fire for now; just concentrate on making a set that works well together and set a goal to get smoke. To be successful with this I strongly urge you to learn the trees of your area. It can be pretty challenging to get a fire going when you don't know the difference between Cottonwood and Ironwood.

Along the lines of fire making, I recommend you gather a hand drill stalk and start to work on getting a technique down. If you are already successful with one stalk try different stalks or shorter stalks or stalks that are decaying. Here's some things to remember. The secret to being good at hand drill is good form, once you've developed good form you need to develop good speed and the secret to good speed is inward pressure.

 

Over the years, one thing I've noticed in the Advanced Standard Class is that people have very little "dirt time" with the throwing sticks. One thing I try to stress in the Standard is if you want to be a good survivalist you must be good at throwing sticks. So get a pile of 15-30 throwing sticks and throw them as often as you can. After a while you'll find you have a hard time pulling yourself away from "practicing."

My next suggestion is to make all four traps taught in the Standard Class. This will give you a good base to work from when you learn the 50+ traps taught in the Advanced Standard. Have fun with it and try trapping your cat or hamster in a cardboard box deadfall. One trick a friend taught me is to use a weak thread for the noose of your snares. Then wrap a couple of pieces of tape (sticky side out) onto the noose. This way the animal will spring the trap and its weight will break the string with hair samples stuck to the tape. It's a great way to prove the trap worked without harming anything.

With all these skills there are two underlying things you need. Cordage and stone tools. So I recommend you make at least six feet of all natural cordage that you have collected from nature. Also important is stone tools. So, as Joe says, develop a relationship with stone. While you are out working on all these skills, pick up rocks and break them. Learn how they break when you hit them at different angles and at different areas. Keep these observations in the back of your mind so you have this knowledge for later on.

The Advanced Standard is meant to give you the experience you need. Also, don't think I have exhausted the list of things to work on. Once you finish this list do it again and again. The more experience you have, the more you will gain from the class. So get to it and have fun.

 

 

A Sustainable Lifestyle for Everyone
'Ninja' Joe Lau

Surprise!! I haven't left the school. As it turns out, it is not my time to leave yet. I am very happy to choose to stay and continue my work here at the Tracker School. Japan will just have to wait. Also, please note that my website address has changed to a new domain name. It is now www.lifevalues-skills.com - again, the name itself clarifies the real essence of the wilderness skills, to provide and sustain life, our most important value. I will also continue to do workshops here at the school. Check them out if you like and if you are nearby.

I have many reasons for adding workshops on top of an instructor's very busy and hectic year-round schedule. Some reasons are: one, my love of teaching. I want others who want the skills as badly and as passionately as I do to have them and I feel the NEED to create this opportunity. Two, is that the skills are for and belong to EVERYONE. I feel the need to share the knowledge that is the birthright of all human beings. Three, is wanting to help others become better teachers, so their understanding of the skills is very key to "learning" how to teach.

Remember, "Give a person a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you feed him for the rest of his life." And then my saying, "Teach a person TO TEACH HOW to fish, and you feed his whole community for the rest of their lives." And four, to help folks with their "homework." The skills are an ever-evolving life-long process of learning.

In my Japanese martial arts training, before we begin we bow in with a saying that roughly translates to, "In the next moment that we train is the potential for the enlightenment that we seek." This is actually a very deep statement with many meanings.

Once it is decided (for yourself) to go on a certain path in life (wilderness skills, martial arts, herbology, being a great parent, etc.), it is important that you can continue to follow that path for your whole life. This does not mean taking courses on your subjects of choice and then not having anything to do with them after that "because life gets in the way". This is a very common trap that the MAJORITY of people fall into. Granted there are priorities that one needs to attend to: normal day job, normal family time, etc. But how does one maintain and sustain a lifestyle? You will never gather up all the jewels that are along the journey because there isn't one big jewel at the end of the path. Besides, then you're at the end of your path, it does you no good then. It's all the jewels (bits of enlightenment) that you pick up all along the way in life that make the big jewel, which is a full and meaningful life.

I notice in my continued training, that you also learn to recognize all the jewels you would have otherwise have missed. One example is teaching. A teaching session doesn't seem to go by without my better understanding of the subject. Someone will ask a question about something and I don't even where the words come from. I will say that these "explanations" that I give could only have come from prolonged thought and experience on that subject. Finally, when I am forced to clarify (for myself), I recognize and pick up a jewel. And, it is in this way that my teaching becomes selfish. Some of the biggest jewels I come across have been while teaching others. Commitment is one of the biggest secrets to a sustainable lifestyle. For example, the question is not, "Should I go to class tonight?" The question is, "How do I make sure I get to class tonight?" How does one balance their life with family, work and training? Only you can find the balance in your own life. The secret is... keep going. Grandfather said that if you wanted to know a skill, teach it. See ya later.

 

 

Responsibility Confronts Us Daily
Nancy Klein

In our lives we are confronted daily by the word "Responsibility."

In our work, in our actions with others, the internal dialog we have with ourselves is endless. We have taken the Standard Class and have become aware of the part we play in taking care of our Earth. In the advanced classes, we begin to learn the depth to which we participate in the "dance" and begin to focus on what we can do to reach others with the information we have learned. It is our desire to pass on the knowledge given to Tom who has in turn shared it with us. As I've written before, this begins "one bite at a time."

If you can, review your class notes, beginning with the Standard Class, and see how your feelings and emotions are affected by what you read. I know I can relive each class just by reading what I have written and remembering all the many people I've met. Remember the excitement? Remember the smell of the cooking fire? Remember the feeling of wanting to go home and share it all with someone? We have become keepers of the knowledge and to my way of thinking, we are "responsible" for sharing all that we've learned so that others will be able to feel what we have felt and become "connected" again with the Earth and all its manifestations.

One of the first steps is to feel responsible for "you." Take a look at where you are in life, your work, and see how you feel after doing so. If you are uncomfortable with an area in your life, take a look at the options as to what you can do to change or adjust it. It is important to make your "foundation" solid, to be able to build on your life for the future' Responsibility begins with, and more importantly, within you. In taking care of yourself, you will begin to be able to help, to reach others. People will sense your stability and trust that what you have to share with them " rings true" as they listen to what you have to say. Tom calls this knowledge " planting the seed" and it is vour responsibility that this "seed" comes from your heart.

Once the seed is planted, we may not know how it will grow, but if unselfishly given, then this "seed" will have come from a good place within you, and it will strengthen and grow.

Responsibility begins with you and how you conduct yourself as you travel through your day ... your life. Begin internally, looking first to be responsible for yourself. Look at the place where you live and how you live; is it the best it can be to help you along your path? Do you see trash as you walk down the street? Are there ways you can help to clean it up? Could you initiate cleanups? Is it possible to become aware of political situations in your communities where you could make a difference? Perhaps a letter to the editor of a paper or a magazine would make others aware of a need to help the Earth. Are there schools where a simple demonstration could begin children (or adults for that matter) on the path to becoming responsible for helping the Earth and teaching others? Sit and think of all the possibilities there are for you and your unique situation. We are all different and able to touch many lives, but it all begins with our Responsibility: to ourselves, and ultimately, to the Earth we share with our Children and Grandchildren.

 

 

Mother Earth on a String: A Youthful Vision
Jon Young

Where were you 28 years ago? In 197 1, in the month of June, Tom Brown, Jr. was driving out of his parent's neighborhood on his way towards the Pine Barrens. This was rural Holmdel, N.J. when there were only farms, forests, fields and wetlands with just a few neighborhoods dotting the landscape.

Tom's parents lived along the edge of thousands of acres of relatively wild lands with bridal trails lacing most of them. When Stalking Wolf was near the end of his days, he told a young Tom Brown, Jr. that one day he would meet a student. This would be his first student and that Tom should mentor him in the way that Grandfather had mentored Tom. Grandfather further explained to Tom that he would know this student "by the sign he carried."

On this day in June, Tom met that first student and knew him by the sign he carried. Tom was 21, and 1, the student, was only ten.

Tom told me years later that he always wondered about this student and what that sign might be. When I turned 2 1, he wrote me a letter commemorating that day when he was 21. He told me in the letter that when he pulled up to the street comer that day, he saw a boy - standing there holding the end of a string. On the other end of the string was a large snapping turtle. When Tom saw that he knew this might be the sign he was looking for. He decided to ask me some questions.

Tom: "What have you got there?"
Boy: "A common Eastern snapping turtle."

Tom thought, "Only half an answer." Did this boy know that to Stalking Wolf this turtle represented the Earth Mother? Did he realize the spiritual significance of this turtle? Did he know of the threats that faced our Earth Mother and the future generations?

 

Parents get into the camo scene at the Coyote class

 

It was on that day that Tom realized he had met his first student and thus began 11 years of close mentoring between Tom and the young boy that was me, Jon Young. Tom frequently tells classes today that in 50,000 students that have come through The Tracker School, only five could have learned from Grandfather. When Tom introduces me he explains that I am one of those five, and that I am the only student he has had the luxury to mentor in exactly the way that Grandfather mentored Tom. He also tells people nowadays that it is my Medicine to fulfill an aspect of Grandfather's, Tom's, Debbie's and my own personal Vision: to lead the children back to Earth Mother.

On this day, I am at the Coyote Tracks Youth Program for the Tracker School, which is operating this summer at the Mohican Outdoor Center in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in the mountains of Northwest New Jersey. This week we have already seen six different bears, and this morning I tracked a larger, previously unseen bear that weighs close to 600 pounds. We have seen several endangered timber rattlesnakes and have enjoyed this beautiful wilderness area with 30-plus students and more than a dozen staff, while sharing an experiential version of the Standard Course designed as a learning adventure for youth.

Tom told us before we all headed up to teach this first program, that Grandfather would be there with us. Indeed, after teaching this special week, I know this to be true. Many of the students told me that they had felt a powerful presence there in their experience with us. The animals and birds revealed themselves in special ways to many of the students there. Many said that they felt some sense of greater destiny acting on their experience, even in the way that they found their way to the program itself. For myself, I saw the fulfillment of many visions and dreams that I had seen several years ago and wondered what they meant and how they would play out.

I know that this is the beginning of something very special.

 

 

Student Gives Coyote Class Rave Review
Nathan Hirshberg

When we first arrived at the Coyote class on Sunday, most of us weren't sure what lay ahead in the next week. Most of us figured we were going to learn some survival skills and study some prints in the ground. This was the least of what we learned.

Of course we learned survival skills including the bow drill, debris hut, and throwing sticks. But the Coyote class was so much more than that. We acquired the knowledge of how to get in the mindset of a wolverine working as fast as possible when we needed to get things done. We learned the sacred order of survival. We can survive in the woods if we need to now but we still have much to learn.

We learned how to track, but not only with prints in the ground. We trained our eyes to see all sizes of animal trails from bears to mice. We could sculpt what an animal looked like from one print. We could understand events that had happened from the signs left behind, including claw marks and hair. We were set on our way to become great trackers, but this would take lots of practice.

 

Teens forged lasting memories and friendships at Coyote class

 

But in this week not only survival and tracking skills were taught. We learned Scout skills like to be aware like the owl. Our awareness was constantly tested in many ways with bowls on top of the rafters and shadow scouts watching us the whole week. And whenever we forgot our awareness, Justin was always there to show us what we had missed by taking our picture from the rafters or giving a yell from the limbs above. And not just Justin kept us on our toes; we had to always keep aware of Bruce tagging us with a magic marker when we never saw him coming, or Scott slipping things out of our pockets and leaving them in places for us to find on our own. We were aware at the end of the week of one certain thing. That we were nowhere near aware enough.

Also in the scout category, we learned how to camouflage ourselves and fox walk. To become invisible in our surroundings. We played a variation on "Capture the Flag" to pull all of these skills together. We learned to be one with the Earth Mother and be in harmony with the environment.

Not only skills were taught to us. We also were informed of Native American culture and philosophy. We learned the importance of the directions and how Native Americans felt about the spirit world. This changed the way we all looked at things.

During this week we turned away from television, video games, and air conditioning and a lot of good came out of it. We were all changed for the rest of our lives. Our eyes were opened to things we had never seen before. While sitting in our secret spots we learned that there is more to life than what most people think. None of these changes would have been possible without the great staff and shadow scouts who gave up their time to teach us, and I am forever grateful for these people. A big thanks goes out to them.

(Nathan Hirshberg of Hackettstown, N.J. is 14-years old and participated in the first-ever Coyote Tracks program, the week of July 25-30, 1999).

 

 

A message from Tom Brown, Jr.

Tom sent a message to the participants of these first Coyote Tracks Youth Programs. He said that when he was young growing up with the teachings and ways of Grandfather, he felt alone. No one of his peers spoke his language or understood the world he knew. He said to tell the students that they should learn to honor and trust their own feelings and heart, and not to seek the emptiness of parties and social gatherings for they know now that there is much more than the flesh and artificial aspects of the world of modern people. There is something powerful and meaningful to be gained from their oneness with Earth Mother. He said, "Tell them Jon, instead, that I sought to live every day of my life as an adventure. To seek the grandness of life that can only be felt through the power that comes from true connection with Earth Mother and living on the edge. Tell them to seek the edge, for there they will always find the truth of their own hearts."

 

 

Getting to Know Plants Involves Details
Betzy Bancroft

Identifying a plant or flower is not difficult. The trouble is, flowers are often short-lived and we want to know the plant well enough that we can always recognize it. When we first look at a plant, most of us notice the size and shape of the leaves. But to distinguish one plant, shrub or tree from another we must look closely at a variety of details and use our senses of smell and touch as well.

Of course it's safest to look at the plant before we touch it. If it has leaves, look at their arrangement. Opposite leaves are directly across from one another, alternate leaves are more or less evenly spaced along the stem. There are other arrangements of leaves like whorled or basal rosette. The next basic feature of leaves is simple or compound. If the leaf is entire, it's simple; if it is comprised of more than one leaflet it's compound. To narrow down identification in a field guide, opposite/alternate and simple/compound are the few botanical terms you need to understand.

Now look even closer. Notice the edge of the leaf. Is it smooth, evenly or jaggedly toothed, deeply indented, sharply serrated or scalloped? Take careful note of the pattern on the edge of the leaf. Is the leaf symmetrical or is one side different somehow? For example, elms and basswoods both have asymmetrical leaves.

Texture is one of the most important characteristics of leaves. Look at the vein structure and how that affects the texture of the leaf. Are the veins parallel or branching? Are they a different color? Leaves also vary from very smooth and delicate to tough and leathery, and this can be visual or physical. Take note of the quality and quantity of fuzziness, spinyness or hairiness of the leaf including where it's fuzzy, like underneath. How is the texture different from the top of the leaf to the underside, and on different parts of the plant? For example, burdock's wooly texture and purple stem clearly differentiate it from other large-leafed herbs like rhubarb, which is very smooth and has red stems.

If you're sure it's not a toxic or irritating plant like poison ivy, feel the texture of the leaves. An obvious example here is cleavers, which has a tackiness not shared by other bedstraws. Get a sense of the surface and overall structure. Rubbing the leaves is also the best way to smell them. You may notice the fragrance right away, or you may have to smell your fingers to get it. Smell is closely related to taste, so this gives you lots of clues about the possible chemistry, energy and palatability of the plant as well as its identity.

With trees, shrubs and vines, it is important to also investigate the stems or branches. Here texture is your main feature, but look at the patterns, colors, scars and buds. Are the patterns parallel to the growth, or perpendicular to it? What differences do you see between the texture and color from older to younger growth? Feel the texture gently and notice if anything falls or rubs off. Look at the colors of the stems and where the colors change in relation to the structure of the plant. Scratching a little bit of the bark off a twig and smelling the twig or rubbing the stem are also really helpful for many of the same reasons as smelling leaves. You may find more fragrance in the bark or stem than leaves, and many aromatic herbaceous plants retain their scent when they dry up in autumn.

When you study the physical characteristics of a particular plant, and get to know its growth and reproductive habits, not only will you be able to recognize it easily in any season, but you will have an understanding of its personality. Knowing the personality of a plant tells you not only how to use it, but what its relationship to the ecosystem is and how it can be sustainably harvested or propagated.

(Betzy Bancroft teaches about plants at the Tracker School's Standard Class in New Jersey).
In the next issue of True Tracks, Betzy will have more to say about plant identification.

 

 

Letter to the Editor

To Nancy Klein, well done, and thank you. It was a joy to read your words, in "True Tracks" Fall, 1998. 1 heard you as you spoke of "changing gears." We are surrounded by an ever increasing world of technology that pushes us further from our Mother Earth, and we sometimes need to "change gears" in order to find our way back, closer to the Earth.

My name is Sean. I am 30 and currently attending college in upstate New York. I am using the money from my GI Bill to further my education, and have plans on attaining an Environmental Engineering degree. I love life, and I love our Earth. That is why I want to help teach other people about how we can do things differently so we do not hurt our world unnecessarily. It is very sad what humankind has done and I feel the burden of responsibility with this knowledge.

What you said touched me, especially "the teachers we all are." If you only could know how much I felt the words sink softly into my heart. I believe in our species, and I believe in the power of love and understanding, compassion and wisdom. "Success is achieved when the parts work together," I read on a poster once. Yes, we are not working "with" the whole, but I have hope.

I think that is what moved me the most by those last few words. There is hope there. There is compassion.

I have recently purchased all of Tom's books and am working my way slowly back into the woods and hills, back closer to Her. Thank you for sharing. My heart is more happy for your words.

Sincerely,

Sean Ryberg

 

 

RRR Corner
Ruth Ann Colby Martin

So how's it going with your recycling, reusing, and reducing use of products that destroy the environment? I hope the beauty of the world around you continues to inspire you to take that extra step to take care of earth mother.

This issue I wanted to simply share with you two really helpful books that have come to me on this topic:

1. Clean and Green, Annie Berthold- Bond, ISBN: 1-886101-01-9. This book includes 485 ways to clean, polish, disinfect, deodorize, launder, remove stains - even wax your car-without harming yourself or the environment. It begins with a chapter explaining how it DOES work: cheaper, speedy and indeed convenient.

2. Mother Nature's Shopping List: A Buying Guide for Environmentally Concerned Consumers, Michael D. Shook, ISBN: 0-8065-1633-X. 200 pages on how to shop smart for yourself, the planet and your grandchildren; also how to save money, reduce use, recycle and reuse products from the supermarket, hardware, clothing store, automotive shop, office supply, appliance store, baby shopping, drug store, garden center, etc.

Good Luck!

 

 

Sticks & Stones

Scott Cunningham, a longtime student of the Tracker School, recently released a new age CD, "Walk Between Worlds." It hit No. 2 on the New Age Voice "Airwaves Top 100" in June. Cunningham's CDs are available at Tracker School...

The school store is now offering gift certificates. These gift certificates are good for classes or Tracker merchandise. For further information call Diane or Raquel at (908) 479-4681...

Comings and goings: A hearty welcome to our newest caretaker, Bill McConnell. Bill is from Bedford, Ohio. He joined us in the spring… Former Pine Barrens caretaker Brian Gooding came up from Georgia recently to visit a Standard Class. Another former caretaker, Michelle McCann, worked at the Coyote program for two weeks.

 

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