HomePublicationsTrue TracksWinter-Spring 1994

True Tracks - Winter-Spring 1994


We hope you will find our new Tracker School newsletter a fun, useful, and informative resource to help you learn. It represents a much needed part of the vision, one we have been dreaming of for quite some time. Many of you have expressed the need for more communication from the school, some way of keeping in touch with what is going on with the Tracker Family. It is our hope that the changes occurring at the school, including this newsletter, will meet those needs.

The Tracker School instructors, Wayne, Rob, Peter, Richard, Frank and Karen will cover various skills, some of the challenges they have encountered while practicing, and general topics of interest to the Tracker Family.

We will keep you informed about changes in the office, especially changes in policy. We will address some of the questions we are most frequently asked. The office staff has been expanded to a total of three, so with Kris, Amy and Kiyeon manning the phones, we will be providing a higher level of service to Tracker students than ever before.

So look for our newsletter in you mailbox every six months, and use it as another tool - not only to keep you informed of what we are doing - but to improve your overall skill level as well.

Tom Teaching in the Pine Barrens

What Do You See in a Tree?

"When Grandfather looked at a tree, he did not just see a trunk with branches and leaves; he saw into the tree. He noticed the texture of the bark, the twist and flow of the limbs, the way the tree swayed in the wind, how its leaves fluttered, what birds and animals had been using it, whether the fruit was ripe - even what insects crawled on it. He knew that the tree's fruit provided food; that its leaves and branches offered shade and shelter; that its bark would give fiber for mats, baskets, and ropes; and that from the wood he might make a variety of implements. To him that tree was a pulsating fountain of life."

Tom Brown, Jr., Field Guide to Living with the Earth, pg. 19.




We cannot admit students under 18 to courses. Please do not ask for an exception. Our insurance company prohibits it.


Tom and the instructors are currently developing a curriculum for a children's camp, with hopes of having it ready to go by summer of 1994. We anticipate having infomation available about this exciting new class available by late March, so stay tuned.


It will come as no surprise to anyone that events in Hollywood seem to be moving on Tracker Time. There is no real news regarding the film based on a portion of Tom's life. The title is yet unknown, and shooting has not begun, but look here for more news as soon as we know it.

"Only when we live in the bosom of creation can the earth speak." Grandfather





Dear Graduates of Advanced Tracking & Awareness classes and/or Philosophy Workshop:

Last year I ran the first Advanced Awareness class, a class that I have been wanting to do for over a decade. It was a class that took the student beyond the concepts of awareness taught in the Advanced Tracking & Awareness classes, and into the deeper levels of awareness known only to Grandfather. These concepts are not taught in any other classes, not even the philosophy workshops. This class was born of a need, a gap that needed to be filled in awareness education. To date, the Advanced Awareness class has been the most successful and enlightening class I have ever run, the results being truly miraculous. I knew then that the class could have gone much further, so I have since redesigned the class and we are offering it again in 1994. Now the Advanced Awareness curriculum will span two levels, beginning the first week with the Advanced Awareness class, and continuing the second week with an Expert Awareness class.

If you are a graduate of the Advanced Tracking and Awareness class, or the Philosophy Workshop, then you are eligible for this class. Also, if you took last year's pilot Advanced Awareness class, I recommend that you consider taking it again, as it has been greatly expanded.

The Advanced Awareness class runs from Sunday, August 14, 1994 through Saturday, August 20, 1994, and the Expert Awareness class runs Sunday, August 21, 1994 through Saturday, August 28, 1994. Both classes are held in the Pine Barrens. I would suggest you get your reservations in early, since this class will book very quickly.


To all Graduate Scouts:

Added to our 1994 Schedule is another pilot program, offered for graduates of the Scout class. As with many of the classes I run, I find gaps in the teaching which must be filled. With all my years of running the Scout classes, I find that very little time was spent on the philosophy or spiritual skills of the scout. This pilot program, Scout Philosophy, will go into areas that no level of the Scout class has ever gone before. It will cover the philosophy of the scout, the spiritual skills which allows the scout to move safely through all aspects of life, and to operate in the realms beyond the flesh. Keep in mind that this is not the Advanced Scout class, but is a totally different focus. Though we will be having similar adventures and training as the Scout class, this advanced training will be through a spiritual approach.

All Good Medicine




by Rob Hartman


Getting your first hand drill fire is definitely a memorable experience. For most of us, it takes a lot of patience, practice and luck. If you want a hand drill fire, you must approach it humbly. It seems there is an inverse relationship between success at starting a hand drill fire, and your general level of cockiness. As with all survival skills, much of your success will depend on having the right materials. Most of us start out with a nice yucca or mullein stalk and a nice cedar fireboard, kept warm and dry in our cozy house. Of course, things get more difficult out in the real world, and you will soon realize why the bow drill should be mastered first.

As you first learn the hand drill you may notice you are not very consistent, but with practice and a better understanding of the materials you are using comes greater ability. Proper form and some good old-fashioned calluses are a must, but even more rewarding are the nuances we begin to learn about the different stalks and wood. Each species has a different character, but even deeper than than, each stalk seems to have a unique personality. For example, you may find that mullein behaves differently depending on its age, degradation, and thickness. The fireboard will respond differently depending on the seasoning, closeness of the growth rings, whether it is heartwood or sap wood, full of resin, or dry. You often must adjust to these subtleties in order to get a good coal. Experiment a little. Practice with an open mind and heart and apply what you have learned when you go out collecting. Most importantly, have fun but be persistent and allow the ancient skill to teach you.




by Wayne Walter

As a member of the staff of the Tracker School, I cannot overemphasize the importance of good physical conditioning. It is paramount to every aspect of your life. The health benefits are well known, and need not be discussed further. However, the effect of regular exercise on other aspects of your life does deserve some attention. Rregular exercise raises one's energy level and ability to deal with stress. Because man's nature is a duality of the physical and spiritual, it is not only important to the body, but also to the spirit that we exercise.

Tom says that no matter what Grandfather had on his training agenda for him and Rick, there were two areas never neglected. Every day without fail Grandfather included a rigorous physical workout, and a lesson in awareness. Grandfather always worked out too, even though he was in his nineties.

Finding the time to work out is always a problem, but if you have the kind of commitment to it Grandfather had, you can find the time. Begin by writing down your schedule for an entire day, accounting for every minute. You will probably notice some time in you schedule like TV watching, or taking a nap, or reading the paper. Consider using this type of time to work out. You may even want to get up earlier, or stay up later. Whatever you decide to give up, the net gain will be positive. Remember, you are a warrior! Act!

Once you have begun to work out, consider adding skill practice to your regimen. For example, practicing the hand drill can be a very effective upper body workout. If you have ever started a fire with a hand drill, you know how much downward pressure it takes. This practice/workout will condition your muscles and toughen your hands. Practice your bow drill as part of your workout, or tan a hid. Carve wood tools; it will condition the fine motor muscles. This concept is only limited by your imagination.

Never stop working for any reason. Consistency is much easier than hit-and-miss. Never miss more than two days or you will discover how powerful the demon of distraction can be. Always do some portion of your workout everyday. In future issues I will address what to do for a workout, but do not wait for that. You can figure out a routine that works for you. Trust your inner vision.




By Karen Sherwood

The number of people attending the classes at the Tracker School continues to grow. This has created a need for volunteers who have taken the Standard course to act as visiting instructors for upcoming Standard courses.

Your primary responsibilities would be to help us in preparing for the classes and in working with the students. This includes giving general help, especially during workshops and meal breaks, and being available to answer student questions and assist them with skill practice. It is a great opportunity to review the Standard class materials, and is great fun as well.

We are looking for Standard course graduates who have practiced their skills, who relate to the students in a caring and positive manner, and are willing to give us a hand. You can sleep in a tent or the barn, and best of all you can eat stew with the class. So pack as you did for the Standard, but bring all those extras you wish you had last time, (like a thick cushion to sit on) and join us. It will be fun to have you here.

We are also accepting applications for volunteer instructors for the advanced classes. You must have already attended the class as a student and be proficient in the skills and techniques taught. If you are interested, fill in the form below and send it off. We will get back to you as soon as we can to confirm your dates.





by Karen Sherwood

When the days of winter shrink to their shortest, and the skies are dark and colorless, it is time to get outside and take a closer look around. Winter is a tremendous time to seek out those plants that might otherwise go unnoticed. By learning to identify winter seed stalks and dried plant skeletons, we are reminded that life will once again be springing from the earth. Additionally, some of our tastiest edibles can be found at this time of year.

Among my favorites are the dried sentinel stalks of the Jerusalem Artichokes that guide us to the treasures below. There is nothing quite like these artichoke tubers gathered fresh and added to a salas or served sliced with an herb dressing.

Cattail swamps are another wilderness supermarket. Try making their starchy roots into flour for your favorite muffin recipe, or adding the tubers to a hearty winter soup. Many times I have explored the cattail swamp in late winter to find young tasty shoots peeking out.

Spicebush is a favorite, too. It can be identified by its tiny flower buds and distinct fragrance. Gather the twigs to make a warming tea that can be served at any meal.

Dried stalks of Burdock, Evening Primrose, and Wild Parsnip tell me to return to those areas later in the season to collect early spring roots. Velvet-leaf, Stinging Nettle, Milkweed, and Dogbane all make wonderful cordage, and I recommend learning to identify them in winter as well as other seasons.

By seeking out these winter plants and observing their subtleties, we realize that the earth is bountiful even in the midst of winter. We learn that we are not alone, but are surrounded by many friends reminding us that the green of spring is indeed on its way. Go out and take a closer look!

A Good book to help you identify winter plants is Pods, Wildflowers, and Weeds in Their Final Beauty, by Jane Embertson; published by Charles Scribner & Sons. It includes silhouettes and photos of various plants in winter.





by Frank Sherwood

The old saying, "practice makes perfect" has strong application to your survival skills. Over the dozen plus years I have been here at the school, I have seen many returning students in advanced classes that have not even reviewed their notes! As a result, their debris huts have more the appearance of the Taj Mahal of the Pine Barrens than a large sleeping bag. They frequently make bow drills Paul Bunyan would have trouble using, and their form using the bow drill looks like something from the Kama Sutra! Come on folks. No couch potatoes allowed. It is a simple formula that says you must practice a skill to master it. It is far better to have worked the bugs out before actually needing to use the skill. Good luck with your practice, and keep on keepin' on!





by Peter Yencken

So you have just returned home from having taken the Standard class, or one of the advanced classes, and you are totally excited with all the possibilities open to you. You are excited to practice your new found skills with total abandon, but the realities (or distortions, depending on your perspective) of life return, and you are faced with duties of job, home, car payments, etc. No time to practice! How can you still be the Warrior?

I believe you can keep the Warrior alive if you constantly ask yourself, "How does the way I live my life impact the planet?"

Native American philosophy is that you only take what you really need. Look at a survival situation. What do you really need to survive? Shelter, water, fire, food; very little, when life is pared down to the basics. Now compare this to your life. Think of the time you could devote to practice, or to your loved ones, and how much lighter your impact would be on the earth, if you were not locked into the pursuit of material possessions.

Obviously, you will not live your life as if in a survival situation, but there are still ways to lessen your impact, such as turning down the thermostat and putting on a sweater. So spend some time thinking about what you can do to be a Warrior and try them out.





by Richard Cleveland

One of the most frequently asked questions during the trapping and sign tracking lecture is what to use as bait for traps. This is not an easy question to answer because an animal's food preferences and availability of food change dramatically from season to season, and often from week to week.

Fortunately, Tom has recently given us an exercise which may prove useful. Find a feeding zone in your favorite transition area. Tie a string between two trees, bushes, or stakes, about six inches off the ground. Collect several different type of plant materials, shoots, leaves, berries, flowers, etc., from the area. Look for what has been browsed. Hang these samples from the string about three inches apart. Use an apple core to attract the animals, this will usually be eaten first. Check the bait a minimum of once a day and keep track of what is eaten in which order in your notebook. This should provide you with a great learning experience. Please feel free to write and let me know what you find.



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