Learning How to See: Apache Wilderness Tracker School

Learning how to read tracks in a giant sandbox.
In order to spend as much time outdoors as humanly possible, I organize and lead trips for Philly-based outdoor adventure club TerraMar Adventures. I stumbled upon TerraMar via Meetup when I moved to Philly in 2007 and initially took over leading indoor rock climbing events. 

TerraMar, and the people I've met through the group, are largely responsible for my maintaining my sanity here. My fellow volunteer guides are among the coolest people I know. 

I've been an organizer for TerraMar for almost a year now, and thank my lucky stars for the unidentifiable forced that led me to it. I've organized everything from a three-day camping trip to beer tasting classes and everything in between. I simply can't get enough of playing outside and the feeling I get when I have the chance to expose someone to something they've never tried before.

This Saturday, I woke up at 6am to spend the entire day learning Apache wilderness tracking from the world-renowned experts at Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracker School. After surviving the pre-dawn wake-up call, this single-day foray into tracking turned into one of the coolest days of my life.

Our instructors taught us about what true awareness of your surroundings means and how even the smallest broken twig tells a story. They taught us about wide-angled vision and all the things a track can tell you - how athletic a person is, if an animal's bladder is full, even if they're happy.

My favorite activity involved playing in a large sandbox. Pairs of group members would act out a scenario in the sandbox - carrying each other piggy-back style, walking toward each other from opposite directions and hugging - while the rest of us had our backs turned. When they finished, we had to figure out what they'd done. Much to our surprise, the youngest in the group, age 12, had a much easier time figuring things out than the adults did!

I was speechless by the end of the day, amazed by things they could see in a patch of forest that looked just like a patch of forest to me. It was truly inspiring, and that kind of connection with the Earth is the closest I'll ever come to believing in God. I could go on and on about exploring thoughts of how disconnected humans are from the Earth, how if everyone suddenly became aware of their environment, the world would be a better place...but that's for another day. Read Last Child in the Woods, if you haven't already.

I can't wait to do the event again! Read more about Tom Brown and the Tracker School here. Have you ever done anything like this?