Nature is our most superb and consummate teacher, and the winter season offers an incomparable smorgasbord of wild offerings to not only just delight us, but to draw out a level and quality of attention within us that institutional learning seldom achieves.
Tracking animal sign across our winter landscape appeals greatly to the sleuthing instincts, and for all the Sherlock’s out there today, it holds promise for drawing out levels of ecological understanding that surpass anything found in textbook science regarding the magical realms of relationship found in Great Nature.
It is wild.
And it may just be the best of the ‘wildness’ that Thoreau says our survival is based upon!
“In wildness is the preservation of the World” (from Walking by HD Thoreau)
So I for one cannot resist the pull that descends upon me at this time of year, and every fresh dusting of snow calls me in a way that all mythological “calls to adventure” tend to promise the adventurous of heart, and the heroic in spirit.
On this day I came across my old familiar friend Mr. Lynx rufus (aka Bobcat) who was coming out from an exploration of the Touchstone (Horse) Farm, and crossing Burton Hwy over to the fields and wetlands bordering the Timberdoodle hunting preserve. He briefly skirted the ubiquitous tracks of Phasianus colchicus (aka Ring-neck Pheasant) along side of the road before turning off to safer haunts, yet I couldn’t help but sense a sleuthing kinship with Thoreau, who likewise often pondered the magical scripts of animal tracks while out upon his winter wanderings.
“Here is the distinct trail of a fox stretching quarter of a mile across the pond. Now I am curious to know what has determined its graceful curvatures, its greater or less spaces and distinctness, and how surely they were coincident with the fluctuations of some mind. Why they now lead me two steps to the right, and then three to the left–If these things are not to be called up and accounted for in the Lamb’s Book of Life, I shall set them down for careless accountants. Here was one expression of the divine mind this morning.
The pond was his journal, and last night’s snow made a tabula rasa for him. I know which way a mind wended this morning. –what horizon it faced by the setting of these tracks–whether it moved slowly or rapidly; by the greater or less intervals and distinctness–for the swiftest step leaves yet a lasting trace.”
These possibilities of mind, as tracking, offer us exercises in attention that truly open us to new levels of insight and understanding on multiple fronts of human engagement. For those looking for a bit of wild adventure that just isn’t gained through the sedentary entrainment of thinking brought on by compulsory institutional learning, get out and take one look at a wild animal’s track and be ready to be whisked around the world! There is more written there than what one first habitually imagines.