May 2012

Tracking The Tracker

A day in the Pine Barrens with Tom Brown Jr...
Carving a bowdrill
A bowdrill in action! Look closely and see the smoke rise.
Gathering greens for a wilderness feast.
How to stay warm on a cold winter night - Find a haystack or a lot of pine needles!
Jim Metzner and Tom Brown

Ever since reading The Tracker in 70's, Tom Brown, Jr. was a something of a legend to me. The book tells the story of his growing up in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and being trained by an Apache elder in the art and science of tracking and survival in the wilderness. So it was a real treat to spend some time with him at his survival school in the Pine Barrens. Students come here from around the world to learn the secrets of camouflage, shelter-building, food gathering and preparation, tool-making and of course tracking – all the innumerable skills necessary to live and live well in virtually any situation in the wild. Tom's school offers dozens of classes, but the very first hands-on skill that all his students learn, is how to make and use a bow-drill. And when you begin moving the bow, watching the drill turn faster and faster, and see the smoke rising and your little pile of wood shavings next to the drill catch fire – you're time traveling back to the time when our ancestors performed this very act.

Walking down a trail with Tom, he would stop, look at the ground carefully and begin to describe what had taken place there recently. Something along the lines of, "here's where the coyote stopped for a moment and then changed direction." All I'm seeing is a patch of ground, thinking he's pulling my leg. But then he gets me on my knees looking closer, "see or even feel that dent in the ground?" I nod. "Well something made that dent; the ground wants to be flat. What put it there?" We start to notice other signs along the trail that indicate the passage of critters – the way a leaf has been cut off, apparently by a rabbit, the impression a deer has left from lying in the grass. The woods begin to appear like an unfolding storybook, if you know how to read it.

For information about Tom Brown's School, check out www.trackerschool.com.