by Tom Brown, Jr.
Awareness is the most important yet most neglected of outdoor skills, but this should
be the first skill developed. You can't be a top survivalist, tracker, birdwatcher, or
hunter without it. Thomas Carlyle once wrote, "The tragedy in life is not what men
suffer but what they miss". Carlyle wasn't talking about the distant wild places or
the material things money can buy, but about the small and simple everyday things we pass
by unnoticed. Things that would add tremendously to our lives and knowledge, we overlook,
pass by, or walk over so much.
In the last several years, thousands of students have been through my tracking and
wilderness survival school, many being experts in outdoor fields, such as hunting guides,
search and rescue teams, police, survival and wilderness instructors. For whatever reasons
people come to the school, whether survival, tracking or more general nature appreciation,
nature observation and awareness in general must be the baseline of everyone's training.
Awareness, not being a tangible skill that can be practiced physically, has a tendency
though to be neglected completely, thus the student loses tremendous insight. Even the
wilderness experts can enhance their knowledge with awareness.
For instance, as you sit there reading this article, answer these simple questions.
What kind of clouds were in the sky the last time you were out? Which way was the wind
blowing? How many different wildflowers can be seen by your front door and which ones are
in bloom? Besides the common ones, how many bird voices can you hear? How many frog
voices? Where is the nearest rabbit, owl, deer, coyote, or f6x from where you sit? Last
time you were out, how many animal tracks did you see around your yard? What time were the
tracks made and what did the animal do?
Your answers to the above questions will show you how much you observe. These questions
are examples of simple awareness, something a good outdoor person should notice without
trying. More intricate observations would include things like, what are the bird voices
telling me now?, or how does the new seed crop of foxtail grasses affect the harvest mouse
population and in turn affect the fox population?
It amazes me whenever I take one of my classes out for a walk or field trip how much is
missed, by amateur and professional alike. On one particular edible plant trip the student
group passed by a dozen deer, two foxes, one cottontail, six groundhogs, myriads of birds
and insects, plus thousands of other things without noticing one. All these animals were
within very close range, some they could have easily reached out and touched. When I
questioned the group about what they had seen the general, reaction was slight
embarrassment and anger at themselves for what they missed. This made me realize how many
wonderful things people miss every day due to a lack of awareness.
Building your power of observation and awareness is quite simple, but it will take
quite a bit of practice and the breaking of some bad habits. Awareness is something that
can be learned very quickly and effectively. Gaining new insights with each day that
passes gives you the instant gratification that will drive you even further into the world
of nature. A world that has always been out there but has eluded most of us.
This article will cover basic nature awareness, the obstacles that have broken down our
observation abilities and what we can do to relearn these abilities. No matter what
outdoor activity you enjoy, these simple techniques will add tremendous impact and depth
to your area of interest.
Why We Have Lost Our Sense of Awareness
At one time in our lives we were all very observant and aware of our surroundings.
During our childhood, each day was filled with fascination, newness and wonder, adventure
and exploration seemed to be the force that drove us. Our awareness existed naturally
within us. As we were slowly socialized, many things began to change. We were lured away
from using our senses, awareness, and observation; we looked to books, television,
magazines, and our teachers for our answers. The older we grew the more we tended not to
look beyond the standard beaten paths. And, as we all know, the familiar beaten path can
be worn down to an old familiar but not necessarily comfortable rut.
Thoreau once said, "Most men live lives of quiet desperation". In a way he
was talking about these ruts of doing the same thing, the same way, day in and day out.
Many times we cannot even see beyond these everyday ruts to a new and different direction.
This society of sameness and robot-like behavior is such a road block to awareness. It
removes us from any new stimulation, or observation. We also carry these ruts into the
wilderness by walking the same paths in the woods or going to the same campgrounds year
Our way of living often removes us from the earth. We are an encapsulated race. Our
connection with the elements has been lost. We live in big houses with controlled climate.
Our cars cut us off from the landscape. We roll up the windows, turn on the air
conditioning, and listen to the stereo. Our shoes are bulky and remove us from the ground.
We sit upon chairs, never touching the earth. Our clothing is so insulating that we no
longer feel the cool breezes across our face and chest.
Even the food we eat doesn't make us aware of our connection to the earth. We don't
really see a loaf of bread as coming from a wheat field blowing in the wind. We pick up an
apple that appears to come from a shelf in a supermarket and not from a living tree. Our
children don't realize that the meat they eat was once an animal. Losing this connection
to the earth, especially early in our childhood, tends to remove us from the flow of life.
This way we are more apt to destroy the earth while destroying our senses, awareness, and
observation skills at the same time.
In this society it is no longer necessary to be aware, we no longer depend on our
fine-tuned senses, as the Apache scout did. His senses were his only means to obtain food
and avoid danger. Our senses, on the other hand, have been dulled from lack of use, have
atrophied, and are almost nonexistent. Because of this we seem to feel we need to look for
other forms of entertainment such as TV, loud music, wild rides, and parties just to give
ourselves a sense of adventure and exploration instead of the more subtle beauty in
We have become intense time watchers and gear our whole lives by the clock. It seems
that we cannot do anything without looking at our wrists to see if it is time: time to
eat, sleep, get up, or go to work. I even find people doing this in nature. This intense
obsession with time forces us to hurry and pass by so many things. When we are walking in
the woods we seem to carry society's time clocks in with us, hurrying through every
situation cuts us off from the natural world and we lose our senses. We no longer take the
time to "smell the roses".
Certainly we all have jobs to do in order to keep our families fed and houses, but we
do not have to become slaves to the system. By changing how we go through our daily
routines we can avoid the ruts and begin seeing more of our world, making life fresh and
exhilarating, opening our senses to new awareness and understanding.
Other Road Blocks to Awareness:
The "Same Old" Trap
Most people believe after they have seen something several times they know that
particular entity. The problem with this way of thinking is that they then fall
into what I call the "same old" trap. This can be best illustrated by asking
everyone if they ever observed a robin. Of course, everyone will say with certainty, they
see robins every day, but was the last robin they saw as delightful and important as the
first one? Robins have never lost their fascination for me with the thousands of robins I
have probably observed.
I'm very child-like in my approach to all areas of nature. When a child and a mud
puddle come together, it may be the same puddle he ran through a hundred times, but every
time he plays in it, the puddle is something unique, something different. He is changing
every day and so is the mud puddle. This is the way I feel about nature. I have never
become so familiar with something that it loses its uniqueness or freshness.
If you really have observed a robin and I were to draw a sketch of one, would you be
able to fill in all the black marks on the bird, tell me that color the tiny spots on its
feet are? Have you ever touched a robin or fed its babies? Have you had one land on your
belly after camouflaging yourself with dirt and grasses? Did you ever watch a robin build
its nest, know how many young it has or what it does with the old egg shells? Have you
ever watched a robin listen to the ground?
All animals have their own unique behaviors, their own personalities. You can see it in
pets; no two are identical. The same holds true with foot prints; there are no two animal
or human tracks exactly alike. No two trees grow exactly the same way. As we learn, we
change and the same holds true with the animals and plants; they are never the "same
old" things. It's a new day and everything should be seen as new.
Stalking Wolf, my childhood Apache friend and mentor, said, "The touch is the
ultimate in observation". Through the intricate art form of stalking, here at the
school, we encourage our students to track and touch various animals, because to get so
close that you can touch an animal, you must live with it, knowing its habits day in and
day out, where it sleeps, eats, and drinks. Then after first painstakingly concealing
yourself, then stalking toward that animal and finally touching it, you can say you know
that animal. Stalking Wolf called touch the mingling of spirits, the closest you can get
in observation and awareness.
Many times people will think or imagine a feeling for a situation before they actually
experience it - this blocks awareness. A general rule here at the school is, don't
anticipate or imagine a feeling or situation beforehand. An example of this would be if I
were to say to a class, "We're going to take a swim in the pond". By watching
the people you can see the thoughts going through their minds: warm, slimy, muddy, frogs,
bugs. A whole assortment of things they have already begun to feel that forms a prejudice
against the experience, has a tremendously negative impact on he actual outcome.
This thinking of feelings was apparent one cold night when I was hiking in the Rocky
Mountain area with a group of students. We were on our way back to camp, the wind was
beginning to blow rather cold and heavy, and the temperature was dropping. I just
mentioned that we were going to have to cross a mountain stream, and within 10 minutes all
of the students were grumbling about how cold it was going to be, what a terrible night it
was, and couldn't we go a different way. When we reached the stream I just walked right in
and laid back, they followed rather reluctantly. It wasn't until they were almost knee
deep that they realized I had taken them into a hot spring. Later everyone admitted they
all felt cold water and chill at first, refusing to believe that it was a hot spring until
they were in waist high.
Confucius said, "To have no expectations is to have everything". Without any
expectations we don't prejudice our minds against the actual experience. When people go in
the woods they might expect to see this animal or that tree, but when they don't see these
things they get disappointed and upset. But if you go without any expectations, then
everything will be new and delightful. If every experience is unexpected, it becomes an
adventure in itself.
Another problem for a lot of people is the obsession with naming or labeling things.
Because we live in a very name-oriented society, many times when we know the name of
something we feel we really know that particular entity. This, in most cases, is not true.
Naming removes the mystery and has a way of prejudicing our thoughts and feelings.
Once I was walking through the woods with a group of children and they were continually
asking me questions such as, "Tom, what is this here?" and I would answer,
"This is a maple leaf viburnam, this is a ruby crowned kinglet", and on and on.
Then I realized that they weren't spending much time exploring any one thing and they
weren't even remembering the names I was giving them Then a little boy came up to me with
a spotted wood snail in his hand and asked, "Tom, what is this?", I was just
about to tell him when I asked instead, "What does it eat, how does it drink, how
does it see and move?". I kept asking question after question without giving them the
name. The children were utterly fascinated for hours with this one snail, something I had
failed to achieve when I was naming everything for them. If you replace the name with
questions you see that even those things you thought you did know, like the robin, become
new and interesting.
Try to get away from the "life list" mentality of amassing large numbers of
different names of things without really knowing that particular entity. The name teaches
us nothing. I've seen a bird watcher look over the landscape and see a bird. He
immediately looked it up in his field guide. Upon finding the bird and seeing it was a
ruby crowned kinglet, he turned to. his life list and checked it off. He no longer paid
attention to what the bird was doing, or where it might have been going. The name was
enough for him.
Consider the white oak, Querkus alba, does the name of the tree tell you about
how it grows so strong and thick from the ground, how it hugs the earth so tightly and
spreads its branches to shade every animal and plant alike? Does it tell you of the fire
that goes into its leaves in the autumn? Of the animals that make their homes in the
leaves and branches or on the ground beneath its feet? Does it tell you of the five foods
you can get from the oak tree or the five medications? How it whispers in a soft or roars
in a tremendous gale? Does it tell you about how the winter leaves clack and rattle in the
winter winds? Of course not, the name hardly tells you anything about anything.
To know a white oak, sit under it for an entire day looking at it, or watch a bird in a
field and see if by knowing the name you really know that much about the entity. Once you
see this you won't be so concerned about putting names on things and mentally filing them
away. Get rid of the "life list" mentality and experience things without the
prejudices of words. Know the mystery of things instead of the names.
Time and Destination
I believe two of the biggest walls that stand in a person's way to awareness are time
and destination. No matter where we go in this day and age, everyone seems to have a time
and destination, a place they must be and a time to be there. The problem is that pe6ple
tend to carry this thinking into the woods with them. I can't count the number of hikers I
have encountered in the woods that were headed to a campground with literally just enough
time to get there before dark. Not allowing themselves enough time to stop along the way
except for short breaks, it becomes more of a physical workout than a backpacking trip.
Even the simple act of going out into the woods and saying, "I'm going to find
deer", gives you a destination.
If you ever want to experience nature in its fullest and see the many things you have
never seen before, then go without time and destination, become timeless in your
wandering. Don't rely on your wristwatch to tell you what time you have to be home,
instead just wander aimlessly with no place to go. Let your imagination captivate you and
take you where it may lead, wherever feels good. Instead of walking to a campground,
stroll towards it, don't be so strapped by your destination and time that you cannot go
off the beaten path. If you can rid your mind of time and destination, you will notice a
big difference in your awareness. You won't feel rushed or forced to go anywhere if all
you have is yourself and no where special to be.
There is a simple phenomenon that occurs after a person has become familiar with a
place. This is called automatic vision. Essentially, it is the mind seeking out those
things that are familiar. If you have ever heard the expression "You can always tell
a tourist", this describes a person who is somewhere for the first time, they tend to
look up and around, taking in everything. But let those people spend a little time there,
even a day or two, and suddenly they tend to get a form of automatic vision which slowly
but effectively strangles your awareness.
When you first see a scene, your subconscious scans it and picks out a few objects that
are vaguely familiar. Your mind likes the familiar, and every time you see the same scene,
your subconscious forces you to focus on those same objects. Your vision is not directed
by your conscious mind, and unless you do consciously direct it, it will be like reading a
paragraph but not really remembering what you read. (Your other senses will also do the
same thing unless consciously directed.) People tend to walk outside the same way and look
at the same things, the same trees, the same areas of the landscape, and so many other set
things. This is why so much goes unnoticed. Animals can be standing just outside the area
where you are looking and you won't see them.
In fact, a good experiment for your family is to hide an object such as a deer skull or
feather some place in your house, something that normally wouldn't be there, but in full
view of everyone. You will find that there are three or four places in every room where
people don't normally look. Essentially, what you are saying to the animals and woods in
general is if you are not in my automatic vision, I'm not going to see you. The only way
to break this habit is to consciously force yourself to always look in a different place,
from a different angle or position. It's something you must condition yourself to do.
Simply take a different route next time, do something to force yourself out of the ruts,
and this will give a newness to a familiar situation.
What We Can Do to Improve Our Awareness Skills:
Look to Nature for Our Answers
Stalking Wolf did not believe in books or even teachers. He believed that all a teacher
could do was to point the way to the greatest understanding, the rest was up to you.
Stalking Wolf was a true coyote teacher. A coyote teacher is one that does not give us
answers but instead asks the appropriate questions that will point in the direction of the
answer. This type of teaching makes us think for ourselves and formulate our own answers
and conclusions. In my upbringing with Stalking Wolf this was one of my greatest assets
for learning awareness.
A good example of this type of teaching is a little story I call "Go ask the
mice". Rick, my boyhood friend, and I were walking along a pine barrens trail about
20 feet behind Stalking Wolf. As we passed under a huge old pine tree Stalking Wolf turned
around and looked at us saying, "Don't disturb it". Rick and I immediately
looked at each other and said, "Don't disturb what?", thinking to ourselves,
here we go again. Was there a deer, a fox, or something else that had eluded us which was
going to make us seem foolish? Well, Rick and I craned our necks looking all around, and
finally Rick looked up the tree and saw a beautiful great horned owl not 10 feet from us.
We were amazed not so much that the owl was there, but that Stalking Wolf had passed
under the tree and without even looking up knew the owl was there. We ran up to
Grandfather and said, "Stalking Wolf, how did you know that owl was in the tree
without looking up?". In true coyote fashion, he turned to us and said, "Go ask
the mice". He didn't say look at your biology book or Boy Scout manual and read
chapters 3 and 4; instead, without giving us any answer he said, "Go ask the
mice". We would not have the understanding we do today of the mice people if it
weren't for this simple little exercise.
Most of my students say, "I wish I had a teacher like Stalking Wolf'. But what
they fail to realize is that when we followed his direction it meant six months on my
knees and belly until I developed a callous across my diaphragm area and bloody knees. By
watching mice, the implications and understandings went far deeper. We not only knew what
mice did when owls were around but when every other predator including man was around. We
looked deeper still to what the mice were doing when various crops were out, in various
types of weather, and many other things. We saw a tremendous inter-connectedness in all
nature; nothing can move without affecting something else. The web of life learned first
hand. By getting away from books and teachers, and finding the answer for ourselves, we
learned the lesson deeply and effectively.
Another time we were having trouble tracking and finding mice tracks. We went up to
Stalking Wolf and asked, "Grandfather, we can't seem to see the same tracks that you
see". His answer to us was, "Grandchildren, you don't know how to look. Go look
at the lawn". We thought to ourselves, how fun, the common lawn; here we were going
to lay on our bellies for a couple days again, being bored out of our skulls. But
following his wisdom a little begrudgingly, we went and laid on the lawn and looked deeply
into it. We discovered a world I could not believe existed, a mini-forest right beneath
our feet that we conceitedly passed by each day. We never understood fully up to this
point what a simple lawn held in beautiful colors, textures, shapes, and shadows. Animals
were hunting and being hunted just as they do in the bigger world of ours. We found mouse
hairs and whiskers, bird scat, and a whole multitude of other things. As we looked close
we saw in this little world big boulders, glassine and crystal in all shapes and sizes.
From that point on I have never been truly bored anywhere. Wherever there is a flower,
a patch of bare ground or anything natural, be it in an airport or doctor's office, or
anyplace else, I can lose myself in this little world which I call a "closer
look". From that square foot of lawn soil, we understood more of the world and have
gone back to it time after time. Too many people go out and seek the larger, more
beautiful things, being taken in only by the awe of the great places of this land like
Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness area. But I remember an old
Indian prayer that said, "Grandfather, grant me to hold the fascination and awe with
the little insignificant things that I do with your larger works of beauty".
Today we know by scientific investigation that the more relaxed the person is the more
aware he becomes and the easier he will learn. The trouble is that most people go back
into the woods and bring with them the high rate of frenzy and thought they use in their
everyday lives. One thought after another washing through the mind and thus adding a great
amount of tension to the body. I simply believe in the fact that you are what you think.
If your mind is in flux and disarray, with a lot of stray thoughts, your body is going to
A great experiment you can do for yourself is imagine a lemon. Close your eyes and
visualize a lemon, the skin, shape and color. Now sit back and imagine it in all its
splendor, then in your mind cut the lemon with a knife. Lift it over your mouth and
squeeze some juice out. You will find that you will practically salivate and taste the
lemon, yet there might not be a lemon within 20 feet of you. Your mind is causing your
body to respond. So it is with a lot of stray thoughts - you can't really be in a natural
setting if you bring with you all the problems of home.
Instead of keeping the rapid pace, slow down into something I call the fox walk which
is about 1/3 to 1/4 slower than the normal pace of an average human being. This brings you
into a moving meditation where you have the time to savor your surroundings. The slower
you go the more you experience. As your mind begins to focus on just your surroundings,
letting go of all You've done in the past and all the future things that await, you will
be propelled into the fantastic world of the eternal now. This is the world Stalking Wolf
taught us to live in, fully in the span of the present moment. Here real time turns into
eternity. There are no external influences other than what you are doing and feeling now,
no outside thoughts to interfere. You will find there is no inner and outer dimension, as
if your senses expand and become one with all things.
Gentle wandering is just my way of saying going without time and destination. Another
word could be heart wandering or following your heart across the landscape. Letting a
butterfly capture your imagination for a while and allowing that to lead to maybe a fox
track or a bouncing rabbit, or a myriad of other possibilities. In other words, wander
without purpose or destination, not being shackled by time. Gentle wandering is the only
way to go in the woods. You tend to see so much more and have time to stop and smell the
roses, touch a frog, or run through the wild flowers.
Probably my favorite way of seeing nature is to go anyplace on the landscape that feels
good to you and sit down, maybe under a big, old, spreading tree, leaning against it,
feeling your body become one with the earth. Just sit there, relax and enjoy. Let your
mind wander a bit over what you are seeing, not expecting anything, but rather
appreciating everything. I find that once you sit down, the surrounding birds become
unaware of your existence and go about their daily lives without taking notice of your
being there. Nature seems to unfold to those people who sit and watch and wait.
I remember one night when I couldn't sleep I told my wife Judy that I was going to an
area close by where the Appalachian Trail hit Sunfish Pond. She thought I was crazy.
"On weekends you need a traffic cop on trail intersections just to keep the
backpackers from bumping into each other," she said. I assured her I knew what I was
doing and went there in the darkness to about 50 feet off the trail. I settled close to an
old oak snag, and waited until the darkness was broken by the first light of dawn. The
animals began to stir. The birds started to echo their voices and song through the air,
and took no notice of me but rather bounced off my shoulder and alighted on my knees. Then
came the night shift, home from work. A raccoon climbed the old, dead oak snag where I
sat, and went into his hole to sleep away the day. Chipmunks began to race across my legs
and the whole symphony of the daytime came into full swing. The first spear of light that
came over the horizon fell on the back of a beautiful red fox, turning its fur into a ball
of red-orange fire, a sight that I will never forget to this day.
Then I heard a slight crackle and noticed a deer and its yearling coming up the trail,
walking slowly by where I sat. As they passed close, I slowly reached out my hand, letting
it fall across their backs as if I were a branch. They were not aware of my presence, and
for a moment our spirits mingled.
Abruptly the whole forest flew into a blaze of frenzy, birds giving their alarm calls,
chipmunks diving for their holes, and the deer took off at a bounding crash through the
brush. Then I realized other people were on the trail. I walked down the trail about 15
feet from where I sat, and encountered a few hikers. As always in the woods, people seem
more talkative and they started talking about the camp area they were heading to. Me, in
my coyote way, asked what they had seen. Their answer was, "just a few birds".
They seemed to be going to that nebulous point B destination from point A, feeling all
happiness was to be found there, all the awareness, all the animals. Like the old poem
Happiness is not found at the end of the trail but along the way", I realized then
that in only two hours of sitting I had seen so much more that those people who covered 10
to 15 miles had in the same amount of time.
Going back to the "go ask the mice" portion of this article you remember me
saying that nothing can move in nature without affecting everything else. You remember
that because I knew what the mice were doing I also knew what predators were in the area
by how it affected the mice.
Nature is a lot like a quiet pond. If a rock is dropped in the center of the pond there
is an immediate disturbance causing a concentric ring effect - each ring creates another
ring, each picking up the disturbance and reactions of the previous one. Concentric rings
are probably the most advanced method of reading what is happening on the landscape. The
Apache scout needed to know and understand concentric rings in order to keep himself
alive. Concentric rings can tell you in advance what is happening further ahead on the
For instance, if you listen closely to the blue jay's alarm call you care tell what
they are reacting to - man, bear, fox, weasel, or deer - by being aware of the slight
tonal change in their voice. Th e ringing effect continues with the deer being affected by
the blue jay's scolding which they know means danger, and snapping their heads up and
around. This movement will warn other animals.
We can begin to see this by sitting quietly in the woods and listening to the surging
of bird voices and animal movement as different animals and birds move in and out of the
area. With practice you can tell at longer and longer distances what is happening by
reading the various concentric rings. Remember, it is something that must be practiced.
The best way to practice is when you hear a bird scolding something, go over and find
out what it was he was scolding. Then took at how other animals are reacting to the
scolding. This will take time and effort, but after a short while you will be conditioned
to observing and hearing concentric rings, and thus know exactly what is happening around
you. You will develop a, deep and broadening awareness that will allow you to travel miles
across the landscape without moving far from your one spot.
Wide Angle Vision
Wide angle vision is a simple technique that enables you to pick up the movement of
animals on the landscape easier than you do now with your normal way of viewing. Most
people look out to a fixed point on the landscape, a distant tree, bush, or maybe the edge
of the tree line. What they don't realize is that they are not opening their vision far
enough to let in all the movements of the area. I have seen people literally pass within
10 feet of deer and foxes and so many other wondrous things because they are looking at a
focused point on the ground horizon. Wide angle vision is how animals see us.
If you have ever been out stalking a deer (unfortunately, I can't go into stalking in
this article because it is such a wide and varied topic), you will notice that the deer
looks toward you but not directly at you. What the deer is doing is using its entire
vision and not focusing on anything, thus making their eyes particularly susceptible to
any movement. This is one of the principles we base our stalking movements on, slow
flowing motion as we approach the animal, minimizing our movement so it cannot be picked
up by wide angle vision.
Wide angle vision is simply accomplished by looking off into the horizon and letting
your eyes open up to the fullest extent of peripheral this does is open up our entire
range of vision, taking in the entire scene. What this does is open up our entire range of
vision to the landscape and makes us more aware of the movement. As you practice and get
better at this, you will find that you will be able to pick up small movements such as the
wiggle of a deer tail, the twitch of a squirrel's nose, or even the flash of an ear or
tail of a fox. You will become very attuned to looking at the various movements on the
landscape and will be able to see much more. When you see a movement, then focus in the
direction of the movement and see if you can make out what it is.
Several years ago I was doing an article with a friend of mine on awareness in nature,
much like this one. After spending a couple of months with him on it and living in the
woods together, he had come over with the final draft. I remember that night vividly; it
was in a little town where I used to live where the only wilderness we had was the ocean
beaches. That night one of the most beautiful and powerful northeastern storms we had in a
long time was brewing. I remember reading through the article, growing thoroughly
disgusted with it because, in essence, my friend did not capture the way I feel about the
natural world or how I approach awareness and observation. Threatening not to do the
article, I walked to the beach and as I approached the boardwalk, the storm increased in
At the same time a concert hall close to the beach was just letting out. The people
were huddled and bundled against the rain and wind, hurrying to their cars to keep from
getting cold and wet. A few of the more braver souls stood on the boardwalk and gazed off
into the pounding fury of the surf, but they were far back from the water's edge. Reaching
out into that surf like a finger was a rock jetty, and right out at the very end stood a
fool, and that fool was me.
The waves made me realize the thing I was missing in the article was the feeling of
total immersion in the natural world, which is how I experience it. I can't be like the
regular person, wrapped and huddled against the forces of nature. I literally have to be
at the end of that jetty, totally immersed. I have got to feel the waves pounding the
rocks, vibrating the very bones of my existence, taste the salt spray, and feel the hard
wind against my flesh, growing stronger with every surge. I've got to be into it
completely until my senses are screaming at full tilt, getting in all the sights and
sounds there are.
I can't pass a pond and say, "Gee, that's a nice pond". I've got to be in it,
feeling the warm ooze and cold depth of the water. I've got to come nose to nose with a
frog and feel catfish nuzzling my thighs, tickle the bellies of herons. I've got to be
completely saturated into my environment so all my senses are alive and at a peak.
I cannot walk through the woods and simply pass through. I've got to hug a tree, lay
against the soil with its hardness and smell its rich loam. I've got to become such a part
of the environment so when I leave my senses ache with over-use. Anything less than this
complete saturation is a mere shallow, hollow experience. You might as well be walking
through a museum with nature behind glass.
Next time you take a walk, no matter where it is, open yourself up and relax. Live in
the eternal now and dive right in. Take in all the sights, sounds, and sensations
you possibly can. By using what has been taught in these articles, you will find your
awareness increase many times over. As you wander you will know where the closest deer are
or what the birds are saying. So many of the other beautiful things in the natural world
that used to go unnoticed will open up to you, adding a new dimension to your life.
From The Tracker magazine, 1984,
published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the
Tracker Trail website