Why 4-D?

Tracks are processes…

Time is a dimension, the 4th…

Illustration of a translucent foot leaving a track in coarse sand.

Process happen in all 4 dimensions…

Over the years, and through the efforts of many, a lot has been accomplished in the illustration of tracking.  How-to instructions and illustrations of its various aspects can be found in much of the literature, and on the web.  Is there even any work yet to be done?  The author believes there is a significant gap in the literature.

The gap:  Although track formation and weathering processes happen in four dimensions (time being the fourth), too many tracking concepts are illustrated only as instants isolated from the flow of time, drawings or photos which include only three-dimensions.  Yes, there are videos, made with cameras that don’t see through feet.  If not illustrated as the processes they actually are, track formation and weathering may remain hard to grasp, misunderstood, or unseen  That’s why 4-D, it can illustrate an entire process, and instants during.

More about the Gap …

Gestalt – a perceptual pattern or structure possessing qualities as a whole that cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts.” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gestalt)

The foot obscures during the complex process of track creation, so parts of the interaction between foot surface and substrate can’t be seen, but the gap can … How complete can understanding be if parts of a process are never seen?

In a way, tracking is using knowledge about the animal, of how a track is formed, and weathers to interpret the gestalt of that entire track, the being who left it, their relationship to the world, a few moments in time, or the local environment.

What does it take to illustrate a complex process?  Ever stand close to a really big river?  Standing on a bank of the Mississippi, especially if you are low down near the water, you can feel that river.  There is an immediate and strong sense of immense and implacable presence – that massive volume of water, immense power slipping so quietly by, with few hints, if any, of the life in its depths.  Could photos or drawings ever capture the actual experience?  Even a near-perfect simulation couldn’t pull that off.

Unlike that river, the smaller scale processes of track formation can be effectively simulated, and they too have a flow.  Exactly what happens as a step is taken, as sand blows into a track, as someone walks across dried and cracked mud, or when a tire is powered along a dusty dirt road?  Seeing for one’s self, witnessing that flow helps understanding, but what to do when one can’t see all of the track form; the sequence of sudden events and gradual events are hidden, or happening too quickly or slowly to perceive?

Except for words, and dirt time with another tracker, there may only be four ways to work around that limitation and teach or learn those processes of track formation and weathering.

– Make drawings or photos of the processes at significant moments … only isolates an instant in a string of moments.

Capture the real thing as a video: slow the fast ones down … a video with one frame every fraction of second as the bowling ball meets the watermelon, or speed the slow ones up, maybe a video with a frame every 5 minutes as the new mud dries? … Most cameras can’t see through opaque objects.

 Simulate it accurately in four-dimensions … can fully express the significant details with a useful side benefit; the important stuff can be subtly emphasized, or not.



Here’s a simulation of a tracking concept … this clip is intended just to raise a couple of questions … “How do the claws move as the foot lands, rolls forwards, and lifts up and away?  Do the claws leave any hints about direction the foot was moving, or the body was being pushed as the foot lifted away?

A Tracking Concept: Claw tip in fine sand



Is this work worth the effort required?

How does the student learn the unseen?

How do you demonstrate and teach what the eye misses?

Is a skill that provides no benefit kept in use?  Here’s a couple of outstanding examples of the skills still in use:

The British Colombia Tracking Association

Orange County Trackers

Illustrations are an essential learning tool for beginning trackers …

Illustrations: Mountain Lion track

Reading tracks and trails is a complex skill, a fascinating journey, and a beginning tracker has much to learn.  Accurate perception is crucial.

Drawings and the process of drawing can tend to cause the mind to notice details, and as a learning tool they can be created to emphasize selected details.

Videos of track formation in the real world do capture processes, and can slow things down enough to see what’s going on.

Three-dimensional animated illustrations of the entire process can include accurate simulation of the physics involved, be created, sped up, or slowed down so as to make essentials visible.

Tracker learning curve can be long.  And that’s not necessarily a problem, inner growth can bring more complete perspectives, a healthier relationship with the world.  As we make our way through life, we all trade time from our limited life budgets for knowledge and experience, often that’s an expensive trade … a lot of time for a little knowledge.  Each of the overlapping stages in learning to track requires a little more of that precious resource.  Good thing society values its trackers so highly that it gives us all the time we need!

Learning to identify who made that track? … Doesn’t take long, mostly, though there are usually a few partial or distorted tracks that can be puzzling, and species with similar tracks, like coyote and domestic dog.

Learning to read the story in one track or trail, including the age? … Is subtler, one is evaluating many more layers, it takes time to learn.  Much progress can be made quickly and one can spend a lifetime.

Prediction, the highest learning tool in any discipline, when one uses what they’ve already learned to forecast future behavior, can be used right from the start and developed forever after.

Drawbacks …

An important question must be considered …

One aspect of mankind’s history is human innovation and invention, most created with good intent but many gone wrong with harmful effects.  Revealing the aspects of tracking as 3-D illustrations is meant well, but will its effects on student trackers, or the tracking world, be negative in some way?  The author isn’t aware of any negative effects from accurate illustrations of tracking, or speeding up the learning curve.  If you are aware of any, please contact the author.

This is not a rationalization, nor an argument for or against.  The answer to this question may only be found among tracking instructors, they’re the ones most likely to have seen what happens if tracking ability develops faster than maturity, or perspective on man’s relationship with the natural world.

What about “Coyote Mentoring”?

The intent here …

Comes from looking back at the limitations encountered in the author’s process of learning to track and wondering if there might be ways to trim time off that learning curve.

Final” version?  Yeah, that’s likely!  There’s always a better way … isn’t that what we humans do?  Which is to say who knows how far this can be nudged?

Sometimes things take on a life of their own.  The author hopes others will see the value this work offers and will explore ways to illustrate the concepts as clearly and fully as possible, the goal being clear and accurate illustrations provided free to student and instructor, maybe even coming together as a group to develop them?

Interested?  Tempted?

Please, please explore!  How many current or future trackers might be glad you did?

If you are a tracker, you already have knowledge and experience to share.

If you’re not an illustrator, and want to share your tracking insights … Would working with an illustrator be a useful way to accomplish that?

I encourage you to explore doing this work.  The more people involved the better! This work is worthy: it will help many others, including future generations, and like tracking with a flashlight at night, it’s sure and certain you’ll notice things from new and useful perspectives.

To Summarize:

The learning process for trackers is as long as it takes, and different for each person.  As an example, for the author it began around 1985, with a book, “The Tracker”, written by Tom Brown Jr..  Now it’s 2018, a lot about tracking has been learned, and there’s no end in sight.

There is a gap in the illustration of various concepts in tracking … at present many of the processes are revealed only by using photographs or hand-drawings of the end result, or instants during.  This leaves the illustration of tracking concepts incomplete because neither of these forms of illustration can carry all the meaningful information, nor can they successfully reveal the flow of subtle changes that gradually transform a track.  More can, and needs to be done to reveal these processes.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.