Cliff Drift Wonder Wander

 In Apprenticeship, trackers, wildlife, wildlife tracking

The days we go out tracking with Earth Tracks always seem to have some sort of magical quality. I really love quietly watching the early morning rays of sun filter through the rising mists in the valleys as I make my way to our location for the day. I’m not sure if it is just the circumstances — the tired, half-asleep, dragging myself out of bed hours earlier than I’d like on a Sunday morning, but the drive to wherever we go always seem to bring me to a place of calm gratitude, super appreciative of being present with the beauty that’s infused in the world around us.

We started out in a typical fashion, circling-up in the tall grass and wildflowers of the meadow as the morning light intensifies, sharing our gratitude and intentions for the day. Although we have still not seen any definitive signs yet this year, some of us continually have at the back of our minds, to keep an eye out for traces and impressions of bobcats that may be lurking in our nearby landscapes. As a group, many of us shared intentions of being present in the moment, as well as quieting our minds, digging deep into mysteries, paying attention to little tracks and details, the trail lines in the landscape and deepening our connection to the deer.

Much of our sharing had deep undertones that speak to something greater:

Learning to see, experience and appreciate the beauty and intricacy in the minute, not only the large and majestic… How everything in Nature is communicating with us constantly… How animals are just instruments being played by the landscape… Looking at tracking as a mirror, tracking the landscapes outside of us, as well as within us, practicing inner tracking, where we are within ourselves, in our bodies, minds and spirits.

I find myself with deep underlying feelings of something English words seem to come up short in expressing, but the German word Heimat comes to mind. In these instances and outings with these people, fellow trackers and nature-lovers, sharing our stories, discussions and wonderings together, with others who feel the connection and calling, we are building something more than just our own experiences.

Along with the sense of gratitude and deep appreciation, there is often an accompanying joy and playfulness that often surfaces in these outings, and it certainly was present with us throughout the day. We were blessed with a sharing of a quick lesson on the hairy-nosed mole, especially relating to information on their interestingly peculiar reproductive organs, too explicit to go into detail here!

Based on our theme, location, and considering where the energy and focus of the group was, we decided to start off on our group tracking adventure in silence, practicing some of our tracking techniques, moving in a dynamic meditation – using our “owl eyes”, listening with “deer ears”, moving as carefully and quietly through the landscape as we can, sharing our observations by hand gestures and facial expressions.

We began to move in a line that dispersed gradually out across and into the forest and meadow border, heading around to come up downwind from our intended destination.

The idea was to keep at least one person from the group within sight, so we could communicate, but I soon found myself drifting further and further away from others that had been in sight, skirting the edge of the Cliffs that look out over the valley. We had been here last with the previous year of apprentices, moving in scout formation with a smaller crew, in a damp, cooler October morning, and had encountered a group of 6 deer at that spot. I was hoping they would be around, be it seemed that they probably knew we were there, and were on track to avoid us.

At some point, when I realized how far from the others I was, and that I had been travelling in a bit of a different direction than them. I had a bit of concern that I might have a really hard time meeting back up with the group, and that I might actually be on my own for most of the day. When I came to terms with that possibility, I realized that would also be a great way to experience the day regardless, and I found myself wandering more fluidly, with less concerns.

Eventually, a crow call pulled me back to the awareness of the group and our day together. I began to slowly move toward the call, and it took quite a while. I was surprised when I finally found the recollecting group, and only half of them were there. As we all trickled in, we began to form a collection of the neat discoveries we had come across. Nearly everyone had found feathers.

Wild Coffee - Triosteum Perfoliatum

Once gathered, we worked to ID the typed of feathers we had found (many Wild Turkey and Grouse), shared about Hop Hornbeam aka Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) seeds, how they can act as a larder for various animals in the ecosystem, and there was a particular plant I had never seen before, Wild Coffee (Triosteum Perfoliatum), that I was delighted to be introduced to.

As we spoke and shared our findings, creativity began arranging our finds in an expressive nature art display for future passer-bys to contemplate.

Following our quiet morning, we headed out to a particular lookout to stop for lunch with an amazing view.

Sometimes we find unexpected oddities while we are out in the field, like the fact that there seemed to be an unusual amount of knives and ‘guns’ lying around up at the lookout point this time.

Another treat was to see Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) alive and pretty well in various places throughout the landscape, and it was especially neat to see what seemed like signs of possible gastropods feeding on their berries.

After lunch we had time to ourselves for a quiet Sit Spot along the cliff edge. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing, feeling the gentle breeze, listening to the birds and insects, and wondering into the growth story of a particular Cedar tree. I love these trees that grow on the limestone cliffs, they have a special role in their environment and each of them seems so unique and to tell their own stories.

A part of me relates deeply to this tree, and the quiet time alone with it shares so much. I am so grateful for the time to just be, out here in Nature.

Following our sit, we climbed down a refreshingly cool cliff crevice that came into a beautiful patch of Pale Jewelweed (Impatience pallida), where some of us had our attention captured and stayed to play with the popping seed pods. Part of the group continued to climb up another small cliff projection where a Turkey Vulture nest had been built at the base in previous years.

It was a tight fit at the top, and we were gifted with a delightful surprise – handfuls of racoon scat all over places with limited handhold spaces. One of my personal favourite aspects of the Tracking Apprenticeship is the banter, laughter and camaraderie shared as trackers, usually of a nature that may seem quite unusual or even disturbing to some.

After a bit of an unnerving decent, we headed back along the bottom of the cliff face, through plenty of prickly plants and boulders, picking up tons of seeds along the way to spread throughout the forests and meadows.

We discovered many things thorough the day, like various dust baths,


several fruiting fungi,


some really amazing displays of Jewelweed over the cliffs that definitely were a treat to see in bloom,


some good signs we were on track,


and some interesting insects


At some point later in the afternoon, we found ourselves looking at the effects of microblasts on the environment and peculiar variations of how the shape/form of trees can tell us quite a bit.

There were quite a few peculiar tree forms that seemed to pop out of the landscape, they always get me wondering about what it must be like to be a tree and the story of all the things that have come to pass that their forms tell us about.

As we circled up to share the last of our words together for the day, that phenomenal sunlight was still present with us.

Overall, it was a really amazing day, it was super peaceful and so much learning and sharing took place. Every day we get out together, it’s such a great time.

I find that I’m always so grateful to be able to participate in the apprenticeship program weekends, I always learn so much new information, and also gain so much inspiration and motivation to grow my understanding and knowledge-base further.

Tracking Apprenticeship 2017 – Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017

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