When I was eight, I spent the entire summer running around Indiana. My great uncle had a few acres in a rural part of the state. One day he handed me a hatchet and gestured towards the woods and off I went. I spent most of the day by myself, riding my bike down to the creek, crawling through brush and carving out a little fort with my hatchet, picking berries, and finally watching fireflies glow. It was easily my favorite summer. I learned how to garden, how to warn cottonmouth snakes I wanted to share their creek, and all kinds of other lessons. I loved it.
In The Tracker (1978), Tom Brown takes a similar childhood to the extreme in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Tom and his friend Rick spent all of their free time in the woods. Rick’s grandfather, Stalking Wolf, was an Apache tracker. Over a decade or so, Stalking Wolf taught the boys to watch, to listen, to become invisible, to track. Most importantly, he taught them to be aware of the larger pattern that moves all around us, to sense “the bond between all living things”, and to see “the spirit-that-moves-through-all-things.”
Through a loose narrative, the book shares the lessons that Stalking Wolf taught. These weren’t lectures, but instead questions and hints to help the boys learn themselves. The main lessons I took from Stalking Wolf are to listen, to appreciate good medicine (“any experience so memorable that it just has to be a gift from the spirit-that-moves-through-all-things”) and omens (“an insight that changes your way of seeing the world…a landmark…the shadow of the spirit-that-moves-in-all-things”), and to work with Nature instead of against it.
This book was an omen for me, and as a result of reading it I will be more present and part of the world.