Trails, Sign, and the Layers

Where does a trail begin and end? 

Layers, the story lives in them all …


Concept Illustrated: Sign: Compressions

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

What can a grass compression tell a tracker?   That’s best answered with another question. What happens to all the ingredients as this step occurs?

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


Concept Illustrated: Trails: Human

The Idea:  What is a trail?  The first answer to come to mind can be deceptively simple and misleading, because there is more than one answer. Without some idea of those answers a beginning tracker may miss a lot.   Clarification may boost overall understanding.

   How complete should the illustration of this concept be?

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 is just a birth page.


Concept Illustrated: Sign: Damage or Disturbed Objects

The Idea:  Sometimes tracks are “simple” depressions, slightly revealed by only a little obvious relief … sometimes less than that. 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.  A discolored or damaged object may also reveal something about how much time has passed since it was disturbed.



Image of tracks left in snow, young Black Bear then Human, walking in opposite directions.
Walk – Young Black Bear, Human, and?

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

Unfolded a little …

Closing the door began the morning run along the old farm road, through fields and woods.  Cresting the wooded ridge to the east, the sun stirred a wave of sweet flowery air from the Honeysuckle patch.  A pause at the ancient maple to rest his palm in a quiet affectionate greeting …


Layers in Sign

An uneasy way: A black bear and a deer each crossed thru this barbed wire fence in different years … Does this speak of motivation or is it normal behavior?



In reading trails much progress can be made quickly … and it’s a lifetime learning process … combining all the 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?