Trails and Sign

All stories have layers …

The tracking stick is marked in inches…

And each layer adds more to the story … more potential interest.  There are several layers in the photo above.  Here’s one; where would you expect to see tracks of a domestic cat … way out in the woods?  And another … what do a bear and raccoon have in common that would draw them to the same area?

It can take a long time to become fluent at reading sign.  By the time he had a grandson, Pa Jay, an old Texas farmer, had become skilled at reading signs.  In the 1950’s, Texas farm roads sometimes had “Stop Ahead” posted well before an intersection.  Sometimes when we approached one, grandfather would downshift the ‘56 chevy pickup, reach across the cracked vinyl bench seat to press a work-calloused hand gently back against his grandson’s forehead, and explain; “That sign said stop a head …”.

Read all the layers and you’ve got the story …

   A fraction of the story in four layers: “He went out for a run.”

… But …

  Unfolded a bit more …

  “Leaving the house, he closed the weather-worn front door, crossed the porch, and stepped down the worn and lichen-spotted concrete steps.  Beginning the day with a morning run along the old farm road just below the hill … a little-used crumbling blacktop road … surrounded by fields and woods, was pretty fine.  Getting to spend the rest of the day doing useful science … yeah, that mix will nurture the light in your eyes!

The sun was just cresting the ridge to the west, and a wave of sweet flowery air drifted up from the massive Honeysuckle patch along the hillside to the east.  They must’ve settled there after escaping some old flowerbed, taking over almost a quarter acre.  He paused at the ancient maple shading the front walk and rested his palm on the rough bark in a quiet affectionate greeting, there’d been some pleasant times there watching sunsets.

The old blacktop farm road was a great place to run, little traffic and its crumbling edges made softer landings for his heels.  Still shaded, the valley air was cool and very damp, a little brighter up where the early light crossed while working its way down the ridge to the west.  Only one or two farm trucks, a couple of waves, and he had the road to himself, well, along with the birds, trees, and other valley wildlife.

Along with a knowledgeable instructor, learning to see the layers is necessary.

What are the layers?  Maybe more than one realizes?  Sign is one…

Photo: Black Bear Hair Snagged on Barbed Wire
Black Bear Hair

No easy way for a black bear to cross this barbed wire fence … maybe she really wanted to?






In reading trails much progress can be made quickly … and it’s a learning process one can spend a lifetime in … It combines all the other layers, including sign. (“Layers” … can that even be illustrated?)

Photo: Moose sign ... Browsing Along the Roadside
Moose sign … Browsing Along the Roadside

How many trails does one have to read before they gain fluency?  Till they’ve seen every possible layer, or how all the possible body movements are reflected in a track or several, especially since every trail is unique?  Yeah, greater “time required to learn” .  

And if the student has already chosen to spend big chunks of their life working, parenting, or in some other day-consuming way?  Should they give one up to make time to focus on tracking?  Which one… work … parenting?  Or maybe they would give up none of those and choose to do their best to weave tracking into the rest of their life?  And if they care that much, maybe they deserve some help?


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Concept Illustrated: Trails – Human

The Idea:  What is a trail?  A deceptively simple and misleading answer might be the first thing to pop up.  So clarification of that concept might help.  Begin by creating a first scene using a human trail as the example.  Eventually the illustration of this concept will include some answers to that question.  Rigid body physics were used to control the interaction between feet, sand objects, and gravity.

Yes, the example is limited, the concept not yet clarified, and the processing power of the author’s PC limited the animation and tracks.  That’s ok for now …  this page concerns what to illustrate and eventually, developing full and complete illustrations.


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Concept Illustrated: Finding and Aging Tracks – Bruising and tearing

Image: Leaf Bruised and Torn After Being Stepped On
Leaf Bruised and Torn After Being Stepped On

The Idea:  Sometimes tracks are “simple” depressions, slightly revealed by only a little obvious relief … noticing these can be a challenge.  One helpful trick is to watch for material that’s been stepped on, because this may indicate a track is near.  A damaged object may also reveal something about how much time has passed since it was disturbed.


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Concept Illustrated: Finding and Aging Tracks – Grass Compressions

The light was just right…

The Idea: When the light was just right … ever turn around and look where you walked after you’d crossed a lawn freshly mown, or one coated with dew or frost, or watched a large animal wade across a field of un-trampled grass?

This clip will be a simple form of that last example, a warm and dry-for-a-while version … as a first step into observing the hidden (by the foot) details of that particular process.

What can a grass compression tell a tracker?   Ever lift something off green grass after it’s lain there for a few days?  How does un-trampled grass respond after you press your palm down to the ground, and remove it promptly?  Are there any differences between a grass compression made by someone standing in place for a while, one made at a walk, and one made at a full run?  Does winter grass respond the same?  Do grass leaves and stems bruise?  When?  Where?  And how does that change with time?  Does tall grass respond the same as short?


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