Day 2 – Pressure Releases – Sunday November 2, 2014
On a bright and crisp morning in Grey County, a group of trackers could be found building a “Tracking Box”. To the untrained eye, it may look like a sand box, but it is also a fascinating tool that helped unlock some of the mysteries of the pressure releases as outlined in “The Science and Art of Tracking” by Tom Brown, Jr.
So first, a little lesson on a Do-It-Yourself Tracking Box.
The dimensions of the one we built were 4 ft X 8 ft out of 2 in x 10 in lumber (tip – if you get three 8 ft long sections of 2×10 then you just need to make one cut to have all the pieces). A rectangular frame was then placed in a good location on the property, lined with a tarp and filled with sand. The best sand for the job is play sand that can be found at an aggregate supplier. Being on a farm with cats, it is important to think about how to cover the tracking box (in this case with a piece of ply), before it becomes the kittie’s domain. . . ! Et voila – get ready to get detailed tracking information!
After we had constructed the tracking box, and warmed ourselves with red clover and hibiscus tea from the expertly built fire, it was time to smooth the sand (anything flat and the right length will work, in this case – a piece of lumber 4 ft wide). With a blank slate in front of us, it was up to Alexis to start the study of the first type of pressure release we would study – Pressure against the walls indicating a change in direction.
Now looking at this image you can get an idea about the level of detail that we were discussing. The principle at play here is the way that sand reacts to shifts in direction or turning. Try it yourself by comparing tracks that were moving forward with a set of tracks where you initiate a sharp turn. With twelve faces close to each grain of sand and the corresponding charts and reference books we happily spent hours discussing slight movements on the each part of the foot.
The second set of pressure releases we looked at were about what happens when an animal changes or maintains forward motion. A great example of how to understand the principle at play is to find some sand and walk across. Then sprint beside it. A quick comparison of these two sets of tracks will demonstrate the backwards motion of the sand as momentum increases.
The third and last pressure release we looked at in detail was the roll and head position. To feel this in your body, close your eyes and reach to the sky, paying attention to the movement in your feet. Now, touch the ground still feeling your feet. You will hopefully notice the way that your balance point changes depending on the position of your head and upper body.
All of these pressure releases can help trackers identify the subtle shifts in direction, speed and body position that a given animal made. These subtleties are etched into the earth and can last longer than the fleeting image of a deer in the distance, but it is important to acknowledge the distortions that can come into play based upon things like rocks, sticks, slopes, water, etc. The controlled environment of the tracking box can be our laboratory and then with fresh “search images” in our brains we can go out into the field to read even deeper into the tracks.
We ended our day by playing a fun game that can work in a tracking box, or a smoothed beach, or untouched snow. One member of the group would walk through the sand, turning, jumping or running as they pleased. Next, the other trackers would come back to the tracking box, having not seen what had taken place, and we would use all the evidence in the tracks we could find to piece together what happened. This way we could test our observations against the direct experience of the track maker. It was amazing to see the way that even within one day, we were able to notice tiny ridges and plates of sand that could then create a whole story. Now to learn the language of pressure releases and the way that they translate into clay mud, snow, pine needle debris and frozen leaves . . .