Saturday, February 29, 2020

By Tony Deis, Founder

Tracking is the original education. The Tracker learns from seeing their entire environment. Yes, the study of Tracking includes secondary resources such as books and other media. Yet at its foundation is an insatiable curiosity developed through routines of observation, and by mapping the most subtle details we see in the world around us.

Tracking is a gateway to a lifetime of adventure. Education should be an adventure, and real adventure is always an education. Learning Tracking is a course of study framed through service with 3 Connections:

Family & Community
Nature & the More-Than-Human-World
Many Generations Beyond Our Lifetime

The most relevant skill to the Tracker is the art of tracking. It teaches more than how to trail and follow animals, it’s about how we see and map the world—identifying patterns through layers and details both small and grand.The education of a Tracker offers teachings in our 4 Guilds:

Rangers The study of Forest Craft, Animal Tracking & Nature Awareness.
Wilders The study of Wildcrafting, Plants, and Wilder Gardens (Horticulture).
Mariners The study of Fishing, Boating, and Ecology (with Economics).
Artisans The study of Handcraft, Storytelling, and Sociology.

The skills of each Guild are learned by going outdoors into Nature, and by applying the core awareness of a Tracker along with hands-on skills of foraging and Forest Craft in nature.

Training in the skills of our Guilds teaches the routine of always mapping what you learn, and, to a greater extent, how you learn. Ultimately, Tracking is how all humans, all our ancestors, first learned about the world. It’s a way of learning and seeing that can benefit both the children of today and many generations beyond our lifetime.

Keep On Tracking,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

At Trackers, the entire point of a day in the woods is not for our teachers to teach, but for nature to lead the way. It’s a chance to learn, as uncontained by the human world as it can be. Too often, that is not the case in the day-to-day world our kids live in.

I don’t have a problem with video games, except that I’m really bad at them. I was the kid that went over to my friend’s house, promptly died on my first turn, and watched them play for the next 2 hours… until I died again. I’m fascinated by their innovative storytelling and technical scope. I also understand many games are altruistic and educational. Nevertheless, when my 9-year-old son goes to a friend’s house and plays video games, I sometimes troll him when he returns.

Dad: Why don’t we play video games at our house?
Robin: (sighs) Because they are other human’s ideas.
Dad: Bingo! I give you 1000 power up points.

We continue the debate about how his brain is growing and patterning, and what things could influence the person he will become. I stress that I don’t mind occasional exposure, just nothing structured in a way that can lead to addiction. Please note, I find it useful for every 9 year old to be well versed in behaviorist theory and evolutionary biology, just to make such conversations practical.

My primary concern is less about the medium of games, and more about where kids spend the majority of their time learning (which they do every second). Robin and I don’t stop at his obligatory family coda (which both annoys and amuses him). We discuss how games are designed to reward a particular course of behavior, for better or worse. Eventually, he brings up the point that TV does similar things (we like our Gravity Falls) and even books are “other peoples’ ideas”. Though, of course, he recognizes none of those possess the same fully-reactive experience of video games.

But nature is a very different teacher than human-produced media. And it builds a very different kind of empathy. When you play a video game, you have to understand human thought. When you track a red fox, you’re required to address an intelligence far more foreign and less domestic. The video game programmer wants you to eventually complete their puzzle. The fox, with the entire forest and seasons that hide it, is not so generous. Social media reinforces us to always be seen—it’s how we collect our “likes” denoting approval. Meanwhile, the Pacific Wren, a small brown bird, will aggressively scold you, alarming for the rest of the forest to run away, if your presence is even mildly obtrusive to their day-to-day foraging of spiders in the sword ferns.

The best rewards in the forest, in nature, come when you are seen less—not more. The lesson learned is never narrowed to one person’s programming objective, philosophy or set of ideas. That does not mean a Tracker is unsocial or avoids learning from their human community. On the contrary, they are often far more open to new ways of thinking because most of the trails they follow are naturally open-ended and mind-blowingly subtle.

This is what I mean by kids learning with nature, and not with teachers. We are guides who keep kids safe and help them overcome any limitations they may have in following the fox. Sure, sometimes those transitions into a more wild place still looks like a program—our camps, after all, have a schedule and curriculum—but they only have enough code to bring us to the freedom of the other side.

Also, of note, my kids are much better at video games than me.

Keep On Tracking,
Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

Help Us Connect With Families!

You likely heard the news. For Summer 2020 Trackers is going beyond the Bay Area and Portland. We now offer camps in Seattle and Denver! Everyone here is excited to bring a deep connection to nature, community and many generations beyond our lifetime to more kids and their families.

How we connect at Trackers is unique—it is more than simply a visit to the woods. It is a profound relationship that empowers children in every aspect of their life. Nature becomes a friend who is always there. Allow me to illustrate this with a simple story.

Mystery Feather

A long, long time ago, Before Trackers (circa 6 BT), I was a seasonal outdoor educator. It was a Saturday—one of my few days off in the summer. Most of my time, day and night, was spent teaching in the forest. Coming back to the city was a culture shock.

I was tired, mulling over a hard week of camp (that happens) and trying to balance my personal checkbook.* I resented being back in the city where everything was more complicated. Walking with my head down I noticed a swath of light feathers lying on the sidewalk. My Trackers brain kicked in. Pulling out my pocket journal I drew a map of the whole area, noting buildings, curbs, rose bushes, trees, people sipping coffee outdoors, and flocks of pigeons mulling about.

Then I narrowed in on where I stood. How was the track and sign strewn across the landscape? While drawing it, I found the feathers had fallen into a pattern. The lightest feathers scattered in a concentric ring further South/Southeast along the sidewalk. The feathers on the street were pushed into the curb by passing cars.

The heavier feathers did not float as far, but still followed the same flow. I tracked the Wind That Once Was, walking only 12 paces North/Northwest to find the heaviest clump of a partial wing just below the Stumptown Coffee sign, where a hawk had temporarily rested in the early dawn with her fresh kill.

Looking up again, I sighted the nearest trees one could fly to and walked West towards them. Three blocks away, in the middle of the street, I found the rest of our pigeon prey, flat like a pancake from the morning traffic. “Why did she drop it?” I asked myself and was immediately answered by the caws coming from a nearby maple tree. The Hawk would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those Meddling Crows!

Later that afternoon, my hypothesis was confirmed by a friend who lived in the neighborhood. Without knowing about my Tracking Adventure, he relayed seeing several crows mobbing a hawk very early that morning—just over where I found the remains of our Pigeon Friend.

Nature Awareness & Connection

This little quest got me out of my head and back into my senses. I opened up the wilderness in the middle of the city. We hope to share that unique form of nature adventure with more families in many other urban areas. No matter where kids live, we want them to see through the eyes of a Tracker. It gets them through challenging days and gives them a superpower to see what most modern people do not. We want to help share a deeper connection to and awareness of community, nature and many generations beyond our lifetime.

Please help us connect. Share the news with friends and family from Seattle and Denver who you feel can benefit by learning and growing with Trackers. Also, we are looking for ideas for activities and local sites to run programming, along with parents interested in becoming ambassadors for our programs in their area. Who knows, Trackers Pittsburgh?

Reply to this email to contact Molly, our Founder, directly. We will both be personally responding.

Keep on Tracking,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

Animal tracking is a great activity to get the family outside and in nature. Through tracking, you and your kids can solve wildlife mysteries together. You learn the stories of animals secretly hidden beyond human eyes. From backyards and playgrounds to public parks and forests, animal tracks are all around us. Use this guide to begin learning about the comings and goings of our animal neighbors.

A quick note on staying found. If you’re searching for and following animal tracks, chances are you’re headed off the beaten path. So the first thing to remember is how to stay found.

  1. Tell somebody where you’re going. Tell them when to expect to hear from you.
  2. Bring a compass and a topographical map of the area
  3. Memorize landmarks, especially ones just behind you.

Ok I’ve found a track. Now what?

There are five questions We ask that help us investigate tracks. We call them the Five Fingers of Tracking.

The Five Fingers of Tracking

Thumb of Tracking – Who is this animal?

So you found a track! The first step is to identify which animal it belongs to. Start with the size of the track—for example, a house cat will be smaller than a cougar. Next, observe its overall shape and detailed features. Match the following observations with the examples in one of the animal tracking field guides listed below!

  1. Count the number of toes. But be careful! Not all toes register (show up) consistently. Look at other tracks to confirm your observations.
  2. See if there are claw marks. Dogs show claws, cats do not. Porcupine show long claws.
  3. Look at the shape and size of the heel pad.
Index Finger of Tracking – What is this animal doing?

Each animal has its own unique way of moving. Finding a line of tracks helps you understand the gait (how an animal moves). This line of tracks forms its own pattern, depending on the animal’s speed. Your field guide is a great resource to sort out the front from the back feet, the first step (pardon the pun). After sorting fore from rear, try and move like the animal, recreating the gait with your own tracks. Gaits can be complicated, so play with it at first. Later, those same field guides can help you go more in-depth with this topic.

Long Finger of Tracking – When was it here?

“When” the animal passed by can be a challenging but fun question to master. There are a few tricks that can help us “age” a track. Pay attention to the weather. Has it rained recently? Was there frost that morning? What other elements can wear away that track? MISSION: Press your finger into the ground near the track. If your fingerprint looks similar to the track, the animal may have passed by recently.

Ring Finger of Tracking – Why was the animal here?

“Why” an animal visits and area is often directly tied to something they need for survival. In order to understand this, we need to look at an animal’s habitat—where it lives. What food is in the surrounding area that the animal may eat? Is there shelter from inclement weather or even a way to hide? Is it breeding season? Even the wind direction, which carries scent, affects why an animal moves through an area. Read about each animal’s survival needs and connect that knowledge to the water, trails, plants and trees you find right around you. MISSION: Find a place in your backyard or nearby park that you visit every day. Sit in this place anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour, and map the plants and trails around you. At first, it might look like a wall of green, but very soon you begin to notice the busy town of mice, raccoons, and birds who share your neighborhood.

Pinky of Tracking – Where is it going, and where did it come from?

Following and finding the animal—this is known as trailing. Start with how many tracks you can find in a row. But trailing goes beyond the tracks, too. Bits of fur stuck on a branch are great clues. Use all your senses to find the animal. Smell for urine posts. Listen to the birds. The alarm calls of robins and other feathered friends call tell you if a bobcat or coyote is passing by. With practice and knowledge of the landscape, you can learn to predict where you might find an animal based on its needs. If it’s really dry, they might seek water. If the weather is challenging, they might hunker down in sheltered areas. MISSION: A fun game to learn trailing starts by dragging a stick through the forest. Start with an obvious line and slowly make it harder to find. Go back to the start and follow your kids, friends, or family as they try to follow your trail and find the prize at the end.

This sounds like so much fun! But where should I go?

Head to floodplains and areas near rivers. The softer surfaces like mud, silt, and sand, are great for capturing tracks. Here are some of the places we love to go:

Oxbow Regional Park

Dabney State Park

Sauvie Island – Warrior Rock

Mary S. Young Park

And what about those field guides? We recommend:

Mammal Tracks and Signs by Mark Elbroch

Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracking by Olaus Johan Murie

Mammals of the Pacific Northwest by Chis Maser

At Trackers, we teach animal tracking for both kids and adults in our camps and classes. Check out TrackersPDX.com for upcoming options for all ages!

 

If your kid is a Tracker, there is code. It describes what it means to be a Tracker and gives guidance as we all connect to community, nature, and many generations beyond us.

Code of a Tracker

Pay Attention Most people go through life with tunnel vision. Trackers Kids learn to see the entire picture, to always look for details both small and great. We teach this through wide-angle vision, animal tracking, and sensory awareness. Students learn nothing is ever what we assume on the surface. Through tracking they learn to travel subtle trails few choose to follow.

Be Truly Helpful For the Tracker, this starts by Paying Attention. We are only TRULY helpful when we listen and empathize with others. A Tracker never assumes what they are doing is right, instead they act thoughtfully to meet to the needs of the village and nature.

Appreciation Awe is often missing from our modern day experience. A Trackers Kid seeks out a great new adventure everyday, feats of respect originating from the beauty of community and the wilder world around us.

Adapt A Trackers Kid always seeks out new answers and layers to the puzzle, to which there is never a finish. Trackers are always learning, growing, and adapting. They improve not only for themselves, but to help support others from friends and family to wildlife, from elders who come before and many generations into the future.

These lessons are shared by all of us as we care for community and adventure with nature. They are the heart of our programs, helping every kid learn what it means to be a “Tracker.”

Keep Growing,

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Dad

An extended community is crucial to raising children. As a parent, I’ve experienced the need for support from family, neighbors, and educators. Our children grow by learning from many different mentors. Tony and I started Trackers Earth in 2004 with a common purpose:

Greater connection to community, nature, our heritage, and future.

It is our community of teachers that makes Trackers special. Many camp programs only hire instructors for summer, which limits who can teach for them. Yet, along with a fantastic seasonal staff, we work to create an educational network that employs more and more teachers throughout the year. As a result, our Village of educators brings experience and responsibility to the journey of helping to raise our children.

A Village thrives through reciprocity: getting support and giving support. Since our founding, so many parents and students have supported us, spreading the word and growing Trackers into one of the largest outdoor programs in Oregon and beyond. In turn, our teachers and I promise to work every day to fulfill that community promise towards greater connection for all generations and the future.

Thank you and see you in the forest,

Molly
Trackers Earth
Founder & Mom

Trackers Earth summer camps are like nothing else in the known universe. Explore all our 2019 summer camp themes: Wilderness Survival, Farming, Fishing, Archery, Wizards, Ninjas, Secret Agents, Blacksmithing, Rock Climbing, Biking & more!

Wilderness survival, archery, blacksmithing, kayak building, fishing, or animal tracking! Students come to Trackers to learn skills forgotten or ignored in modern life. They feel compelled to engage with the primal physical world, not a digital representation of it.

These hands-on skills bring mental puzzles. You carve wood that doesn’t have perfect grain. You make a fire in wet conditions. Crafting leads to craftiness—a capacity for thoughtful strategy to navigate a complex world. Even more important is that the deer is not a coded object in an online game. As you track the doe, she forces you to understand that she too has a passion to live, breathe, and survive.

This all leads to the “invisible skill” of Trackers—our version of Outdoor Leadership. We teach a means of community stewardship that has existed since humans first walked the planet. At Trackers, the best leaders are actual “trackers”—individuals who deftly listen to the land they care for and the people they serve.

This ability is not gained just by following a textbook or teacher. Each student needs challenges that only the diversity of nature and forest craft can bring about. I know excellent leaders who are accomplished at negotiating the human world, but it is a rare leader whose personal intelligence also extends into the more-than-human world. Such individuals are guided by a radical awareness and profound empathy.

At Trackers, this version of Outdoor Leadership makes our courses and community greater than the sum of the skills we teach. Yet it is often invisible, threaded through the ongoing experiences of our students and families.

After much internal conversation at Trackers, we realize we need to do even more to nurture this “invisible skill” in our future leaders, the younger members of our community. Over the next year, the majority of our teen mentoring programs will feature a greater emphasis on Outdoor Leadership training.

Central to many upcoming courses is a dialogue with our Apprentices that addresses these deeper qualities of Outdoor Leadership. This includes our Rangers, Wilders, Mariners, Artisans, and Archery apprenticeships, along with our Homeschool Outdoor and After School programs for middle and high school age students.

Our goal is to foster the next generation of teachers and leaders for Trackers and beyond. We seek to grow a community through awareness, empathy, and strategies for equity. We hope to show our Teen Apprentices how tracking the deer leads us all to greater care for our shared village and the Earth on which we live.

Tony Deis
Trackers Earth, Founder

Disclaimer: This blog is from a mom who happens to know her individual kids very well. It does not necessarily reflect exactly how we teach at Trackers Camps.


By Molly Deis, Trackers Founder & Mom

Remember when Calvin, from the Calvin & Hobbes comic, bellowed at his mother to watch TV, ran amok around the house, or, as Spaceman Spiff, blew something up? After which, Calvin’s mom promptly tossed him outside.

When my own kids start to lose it, I do the same thing. Minus the actual tossing.

Love or hate it, most of us have used the classic “time out” when our kids get challenging. However, being sent to your room can be a strange mix of punishment and reward: there are toys, but also four walls (like a classroom… or a prison).

On the other hand, Time-Outside is different. The blue sky doesn’t respond to tantrums. The trees are unmoved by screams. The bugs could care less about your bad mood. There is no audience. All that remains is an outlet for self-creativity in the form of sticks, grass and mud.

There are many pathways to challenging behavior. Maybe the child is bored. Maybe they’re too reliant on us parents for their perceived needs. Maybe they’re bouncing off the walls as a plea for freedom. Or maybe they just choose to be selfish that day. These are all human problems that Nature could care less about.

When you go back far enough, we all had hunter-gatherer ancestors who raised their kids in a world not defined by four walls. Instead, a child’s playroom stretched to the horizon, filled with rivers, meadows, and forest. Children are supposed to start out as selfish with other humans in the family. A child who vocalizes her needs is employing a survival strategy that ensures the tribe feeds and cares for her. Some researchers even suggest crying could be a natural mechanism that helps stave off the birth of additional siblings—additional competition for resources (a phenomenon I’m sure many parents will vouch for).

Parental proximity amplifies this selfish instinct. Research shows that children cry more when they know a parent is around. As vexing as this can be, it demonstrates a healthy and instinctive dependence on essential caregivers. But nature also provides a balance for this. Survival skills for the wilderness helps pull children into autonomy and competent adulthood.

In the hunter-gatherer world, no matter how hard you cry the fish won’t jump onto your hook, the deer won’t walk into your arrow, and the cattail root won’t leap out of the mud and into your basket.

Nature does not reward behavior with the same attention as a parent. While we’re genetically coded to tolerate (to some degree) the pleadings of our own offspring, the rest of nature have no such ties. Birds don’t ask, “Are you okay?” when you’re throwing a fit. Nor do they say, “You’re bad.” They might see you as a threat, watching you and alarming from the trees until you calm down.

Any child attentive to wildlife soon recognizes the importance of attuned senses, stillness, and blending in (camouflage). Thus, by sparking even the most basic interest in Nature, parents can help these “animals teachers” transform their child from human dependent to wilder diplomat.

So, even though nature doesn’t give a fig, it’s incredibly engaging. From the worst tantrum, it rarely takes more than 20 minutes for my kids to calm down once they get outside. Usually far shorter, especially if I’m not right there to be their foil.

The improvement is swift and impressive as four-year-old Annie quickly forgets she needed to watch Wild Kratts. Instead, she embarks on a creature-power-adventure with the actual squirrels in her own yard. The bonus? I have some much-needed peace and quiet to get some work done, like writing this blog! (Though I do peek my head out every so often to confirm she and her brother are still alive.)

In reading this, hopefully you don’t think I’m a callous mother, abandoning her children’s emotional plights to a world of spiders, moles and squirrels. My goal is freedom for my children. Freedom from the stuff in their room. Freedom from me telling them what is right or wrong. Mostly importantly, freedom to discover their own resilience.

Time-Outside works so well, sometimes I give myself one. When I realize I’m not handling parenting as well as I should, I head outdoors to keep the goats company and watch the barn swallows feed their own begging chicks. However, time out in nature shouldn’t be limited to parenting challenges. There are countless reasons to head into the unspoiled, rural or urban wilderness. Go watch the stars. Garden in the dirt. Play in the sprinkler!

When the weather is warm, children should stay outside as much as possible during daylight hours—maybe beyond. Set up a blanket for picnic lunches. Hang a hammock. Suggest they build a stick fort if they crave the “indoors”. The more you keep them outside, the less you’ll see that selfish front kids put up for us as parents. The more you’re outside with them, the happier everyone will be.

So if you do come to my house this summer, please take the driveway slowly. Beware the feral children roaming amok with a certain stuffed tiger named after a comic sitting in their currently empty room.