Tracking for Journalers: The Secret Language of Nature (Palo Alto)

Do you want to take your nature observations to the next level? Do you want to see more animals and understand more of what is going on around you? Join this illuminating class to learn how tracking and nature journaling combined can make you a much more perceptive naturalist. We will go over fundamental tracking knowledge, awareness exercises to make you more observant, and specific ways to enrich your journal pages with a tracking perspective. Marley will also share photos, stories, and journal pages from tracking adventures on three continents.

All ages and experience levels are welcome.

No registration necessary, $20 suggested donation.

Tracking for Journalers: The Secret Language of Nature (Cupertino)

Do you want to take your nature observations to the next level? Do you want to see more animals and understand more of what is going on around you? Join this illuminating class to learn how tracking and nature journaling combined can make you a much more perceptive naturalist. We will go over fundamental tracking knowledge, awareness exercises to make you more observant, and specific ways to enrich your journal pages with a tracking perspective. Marley will also share photos, stories, and journal pages from tracking adventures on three continents.

All ages and experience levels are welcome.

No registration necessary, $20 suggested donation.

Tracking for Journalers: The Secret Language of Nature (Saratoga)

Do you want to take your nature observations to the next level? Do you want to see more animals and understand more of what is going on around you? Join this illuminating class to learn how tracking and nature journaling combined can make you a much more perceptive naturalist. We will go over fundamental tracking knowledge, awareness exercises to make you more observant, and specific ways to enrich your journal pages with a tracking perspective. Marley will also share photos, stories, and journal pages from tracking adventures on three continents.

All ages and experience levels are welcome.

No registration necessary, $20 suggested donation.

Tracking for Journalers: The Secret Language of Nature (Lafayette)

Do you want to take your nature observations to the next level? Do you want to see more animals and understand more of what is going on around you? Join this illuminating class to learn how tracking and nature journaling combined can make you a much more perceptive naturalist. We will go over fundamental tracking knowledge, awareness exercises to make you more observant, and specific ways to enrich your journal pages with a tracking perspective. Marley will also share photos, stories, and journal pages from tracking adventures on three continents.

All ages and experience levels are welcome.

No registration necessary, $20 suggested donation.

Tracking for Journalers: The Secret Language of Nature (San Francisco)

Do you want to take your nature observations to the next level? Do you want to see more animals and understand more of what is going on around you? Join this illuminating class to learn how tracking and nature journaling combined can make you a much more perceptive naturalist. We will go over fundamental tracking knowledge, awareness exercises to make you more observant, and specific ways to enrich your journal pages with a tracking perspective. Marley will also share photos, stories, and journal pages from tracking adventures on three continents.

All ages and experience levels are welcome.

No registration necessary, $20 suggested donation.

San Francisco: Tuesday 12:30-2:00
Crissy Field Center
1199 East Beach
San Francisco, CA 94129 United States

Tracking Plants

A track is a readable mark left by a movement, action, or process. Tracking is the observation of these marks and the attempt to imagine the movements, actions, or processes that created the marks.

Right about now you might be saying, “yeah, yeah. I already know what tracking is; looking at animal footprints. Here goes Marley stating the obvious again.” Well, you might be right. I’m restating the obvious, in the most general and all-inclusive way possible, before making a leap of faith to include plants in our conception of trackable beings. Why not?

Most plants move slower than most animals and their lifeways are considerably different but they still follow patterned growth cycles, respond to stimuli, move towards some things and away from others, they reproduce, and they die. And most importantly for this discussion, they leave behind marks and signs of their actions.

There are several reasons why including plants as trackable subjects is helpful. First of all, it will help us learn more about this foundational kingdom of living beings from a unique perspective. Second, it will help us with our holistic understanding of the ecology and natural history of the area in which we track. Plants are, after all, one of the most important biotic players in the drama of life. Seeing them as engaged actors instead of as immobile, passive furniture can help us better understand what is happening around us. Third, by becoming better plant trackers we will be more able to identify or tune out the “noise” of plant tracks and sign mixed in with animals tracks and sign when we are focused on tracking animals.

img_2069

In the above photo we can see a plant doing two distinctly trackable things that are important to be aware of. On the left side of the photo we can see actual tracks left by the movement of the plant in the sand. This is a common phenomenon and important to recognize and filter as noise when tracking animals. It can also be an important clue in determining wind patterns, directions, and intensity. In the bottom right of the photo we can see the plant performing what I call “sorting.” The plant is creating an uneven distribution of rabbit scat by it’s physical presence; creating a sort of dam that traps the pellets and accumulates them. This type of sorting pattern is important to understand so that we do not jump to incorrect conclusion about why there is so much scat right next to this plant.

img_2059

Plants are also very useful substrates for recording information, containing animal sign, or for calculating age of animal sign. The bruising, oxidation, wilting, and callusing of plant tissue can be very useful in estimating age but these processes are also dependent on weather.

Whether you are a wildlife tracker, an avid hunter, or a curious gardener you should learn how to track plants.

 

Some photos showing trackable phenomena in plants:

IMG_3029 Trees live a long time and they are dying for half of that time. Their woody tissue and predictable growth patterns allow for tracking into deep history (dendrochronology for example)

IMG_4015Vegetation can be a very precise substrate for information about animals.

img_2384Small feet-like sticky tendrils left on a painted door by a vine.

 

Delve Deeper at Bodega Dunes

In the month of May the North Coast Nature Journal Club will be going to one of my favorite locations, Bodega Dunes! This is another great spot to learn the usefulness of a tracking perspective and how reading tracks can accelerate your learning as a naturalist and nature journaler. We will also get a chance to explore the edges of seasonal ponds, coastal wildflowers, the digs of coyotes and badgers, and perhaps osprey and other raptor activity. Last time I was there I found huge owl pellets filled with vole bones, watched osprey fly by with fish, and saw hundreds of sandpipers on the beach.

This is a coastal location so the weather is variable and often windy. Sometimes it is foggy and drippy. Wear layers and sun protection, sun hat. The hiking will be mild and we will mostly avoid walking on the difficult loose sand dunes. Our potluck will be around 12:30 on the trail so bring a packable potluck item to share. Binoculars and light folding stools could be useful.

We will park and meet at 10am along the cypress trees at the entrance. Parking in this area is free.

Be prepared to recognize patterns, draw birds, and add story-telling elements to your journal practice. Students from my Santa Rosa Junior College class might join us on this day!

$20 suggested donation

 

A Match Made in Heaven!

IMG_2516Tracking and nature journaling; a match made in heaven!
Come explore coastal lagoons, meadows, and dunes for an awesome day of tracking and journaling in a great location. We will approach tracking in a holistic sense and learn to integrate it into our quiver of naturalist skills.

Abbot’s Lagoon in Point Reyes National Seashore is a world class location for tracking and bird watching where we are sure to find many goodies to fill our journals. Badgers, otters, bobcat, owls, ravens, falcons, and foxes are a few of the denizens whose tracks and sign we might see.

Meet at the parking lot at the trailhead on Pierce Point Rd, approximately 15 minutes from Point Reyes Station. Wear lots of layers and be prepared for variable weather, sun, and wind. Also be prepared to walk in sand dunes.

Sunday February 28th from 10-4pm

Meet at Abbot’s Lagoon Trailhead on Pierce Point Rd in Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, CA.

 

more information: http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/event/nature-journal-tracking-workshop-and-field-trip

Pattern Recognition Saves Lives

On a warm summer afternoon you walk down the rocky trail at your favorite regional park. Despite the beautiful surroundings, your head is full of thoughts about work, family obligations, and financial concerns. Coming to a steep part in the trail, you are about to grab a rock for support when your hand jerks back with a mind of its own.

Your distracted consciousness snaps back to the here and now. And then you see it. Coiled menacingly on the rock, inches from where you were about to put your hand, is a rattlesnake. Looking at it now with all of your attention you realize how camouflaged it is yet how striking the overall pattern is. There is something archetypal about the diamond shape of its pit viper head, the bulge of its jaw and the ridge over its gleaming eye.

Our human ancestors needed to recognize patterns in order to survive. This ability allowed them to discern dangers and take advantage of opportunities. As our proficiency for patterns grew it allowed our species to learn faster, adapt to new conditions, and eventually spread across the face of the planet. While there are fewer hidden predators and poisonous snakes for us to contend with, the modern, more urbanized human still depends greatly on the ability to recognize patterns. And for those of us who are interested in reconnecting with nature, tracking, or hunting, a fluency in the language of patterns is essential.

So what is a pattern? Two definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary stand out:

1. An arrangement or relationship of elements, especially one which indicates or implies an    underlying causative process other than chance.

2. A regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in certain actions or situations; especially one on which the prediction of successive or future events may be based.

The first definition points to the fact that a pattern is not a superficial event and is not random, it is based on an underlying process. This is crucial when filtering information through awareness and focusing learning. Paying attention to patterns will lead to an understanding of underlying causes while paying attention to noise or superficial elements will not provide the same advantage.

The second definition points to the crux of the matter, namely the ability to predict. Patterns repeat themselves in a meaningful and intelligible way. Understanding the pattern allows the brain to make accurate predictions about future events. The ability to remember previously encountered patterns and make accurate predictions is the basis of intelligence. See my review of Jeff Hawkin’s book “On Intelligence” for more on the brain science behind prediction “On Intelligence“.

In the rattlesnake example above, the brain recognized the pattern in a “bottom up” process, where the more primitive parts made the call while the conscious neocortex was thinking about family problems and finances. Have you ever jumped back from what looked like a snake or a spider before you even realized what you were doing? Have you ever known what someone was going to do before they even did it?

These are a common occurrence that many people refer to as gut reactions or intuition. Much of our interpersonal relationships are actually based on the lower parts of our brain reading minute patterns in other people’s body language, tone of voice, and even smell. These intuitive, sometimes almost magical, predictions are also a central part of sports mythology and any field that requires high performance. Being open to these responses and training our brains through repeat exposure to these patterns we can react more quickly and more accurately whether in sports, business, relationships, or in the wilderness.

It is important to be aware of our bottom up pattern recognition but we can also bring our conscious awareness to the task and achieve great benefits. Paying special attention to patterns when learning new things will make it easier and faster to develop a holistic understanding of the subject matter. For example, When learning a new language, you can get a huge head start if you look for words that share a common ancestry with words from your native tongue. As this understanding of etymological patterns grows, your ability to learn languages and predict the meanings of foreign words will improve. If you start from scratch, with rote memorization of long vocabulary lists you will take much longer.

Some patterns repeat so often in nature that they demand special attention. The branching pattern of a river into smaller and smaller tributaries and streams can tell us much about the basic functioning of our universe. This pattern can be seen in plants, in our veins, in minerals, and even in our families.

By intentionally thinking in terms of patterns we can accelerate our learning, deepen our understanding, and make more accurate predictions in our field.
Whether predicting the presence of a poisonous snake, learning a new language, or tracking a trophy elk the ability to recognize patterns can save your life, and make it much more magical.