Tracking the Past

Some background before I tell the story.

When I was a kid I had a hard time and learned not to expect much from life.  When I was 16 my friend Rob, who was not shy and anxious as I was, took me with him to a wilderness survival class in Massachusetts.  We were both into this kind of thing, building forts in the woods, using axes and camping out.  Going to this class was a big deal and not something I ever thought could happen.  At the class a man stopped in who knew the instructors.  He was a wildlife tracking instructor who lead many workshops in the area.  Rob, always willing to talk to anyone, told the man our life story, how we were interested in the outdoors and how I had all the good books.  The man said he had a book coming out soon and hoped I would buy it.  He also gave us a flyer for a upcoming tracking workshop and told us we should come.  I wanted to so much.  I didn’t even mention it to my parents, believing so strongly that I would never get something I wanted so badly.

A few years later I did get this mans book.  It is called “Tracking and the Art of Seeing” by Paul Rezendes.  In wildlife tracking circles this book and his programs are much renown.

Now the story proper.

A few days ago my wife Deneen, some friends including Justin P and I were tracking at the Quabbin Reservoir.  We found Mink tracks along a little bit of swamp.  There were squirrels and voles.  A grouse left its tracks across the wood road, and someone had left bird seed in several places.  We watched Chickadees and a Red Breasted Nuthatch.  There were a few other people that had been out before us.  Looked as if they were also looking at the tracks.

Chickadee and Red Breasted Nuthatch

We left the main wood road for a little spot of upland White Pine and Hemlock.  We found some tracks there.  We spent some time discussing them, they were exciting. Looked like Fisher or Otter.  There was blood in the trail, but not from the feet we theorized.  We following the tracks back to where they came from in order to discover what the blood was from.  It came off in frozen droplets, not melting into the snow, sometimes landing many inches from the tracks.  Together we created and changed ideas as we found more information.  Was the blood from prey it was carrying?  Was the Fisher/Otter injured.  Was it coming from high on the animal explaining why it was found so far from the tracks.  Was it Fisher or Otter.  I looked at the toes and talked myself into thinking it was a Fisher even though it slide several times, something Otters are known for and Fisher are not.

fisher tracks

Otter Tracks

After a time we came to the top of a hill looking down into more woods below us.  Just then we heard a howl, quite wolflike, and close.  We were still for one moment.  I felt briefly as if it were an animal then realized it was a person.  One of our group had returned to the car early so we thought it was him and called back to the person.   It was not our friend but two older men.  One of them with a beard asked us if we were trailing the Otter.  I replied I had thought it was a Fisher.  I knew who the man was, who else would I meet out here on the trail of an Otter.  After some conversation he reveled himself as Paul Rezendes.

For years I had told the story of meeting Paul the first time as a missed opportunity and great regret.  I hadn’t the guts or belief in myself to take his class.  Other people my age had become his apprentices and wrote books or started schools in Nature connection.  I went to college for something I was not in love with.  I had wasted years not tracking, not doing what I was meant to do. Meeting the man who wrote the book on tracking was a story of grief.

Now I met him again, my mentor from afar, on the other end of a wild animals trail, in the woods, doing what we both love.  I am a good tracker.  I have taken an apprentice program from one of Paul’s old apprentices.  Maybe I will write a book.  My story is changed.  Grief and regret no more.  Accomplishment and connection now.  Whatever made me think that I did not deserve to have what I wanted or was doomed in some way was just a story.  Paul told us on the trail that the mind creates stories.  “Sometimes they are even true,” he said as if the right or wrong of it was not that important.  Getting too attached is dangerous, the facts can change, the eyes can be fooled.

A Fisher’s trail could turn out to obviously be an Otter and one may never know unless one allows for growth.

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