The Same Old Trap
by Tom Brown Jr.
I once watched Grandfather gazing at a distant bush, thoroughly engrossed in some movement. He stood for the better part of an hour, silent and still, eyes glued to that bush.
I could tell by the way that bush moved it was some sort of bird. And by the way Grandfather was paying attention, it must have been some exotic, exciting bird, I thought. I slowly stalked toward Grandfather, desperate to see what had so captivated his attention. As I drew close, I could see the movements of the lower branches and the bird, but I could not make out what kind of bird it was. Grandfather remained silent, his gaze still affixed to the bush and the unknown bird.
Just as I was about to ask him what type of bird he was watching, a common robin flew from the brush. Robins were as common as pine trees, so I continued to stare at the bush, but there were no longer any movement. I asked Grandfather what he was looking at and, smiling, he replied, "A robin," "But Grandfather," I attested, "it's just a common robin. What's so interesting about a robin?" His smile broke to a frown of displeasure and he muttered, "Just a robin?" With that he took a stick and drew a picture of a bird on the ground and, handing me the stick, he ordered, "Show me where all the black marks on a robin are located." He then asked me what colors the robin's feet were, the color of each feather, and exactly how they build their nests.
Needless to say, I was humiliated. I had no answers; I didn't even have the vaguest idea how many black marks the bird had. I looked at Grandfather sadly and admitted, "I just don't know." "Then," he continued, "each is as different as you and I, and we can never exhaust the possibilities of learning something new each time we observe a robin. That is also true of everything else in life, every experience, every situation, every bird, tree, rock, water, and leaf, for we can never know enough about anything. Finally," he continued, "you do not even begin to know an animal until you touch it, and feel its spirit. Then and only then can you ever begin to know."
I see so many children and adults alike caught up in the same old
trap. Because they have seen something once, because they know the name, because they have encountered something several times, they think they know that entity, when in reality, and Grandfather showed me with the robin, they don't really know anything. Falling into that
same old trap makes it impossible to learn anything new, or even to do anything new. Teach children that because they grow and learn each day, because each day is new, nothing in life is ever the same old anything.
From In the Tracks of the Tracker magazine, Fall 1993.
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