Where Fading Paths Lead

Photo: © Phillip CollaVia: oceanlight.com

Photo: © Phillip Colla
Via: oceanlight.com

I have the feeling that a few of the skills I learned from my late grandmother, the old-fashioned stuff of pre-radio days like how to crotchet a blanket or to  preserve a batch of the family recipe for apple butter, will probably not be passed along to the next generation. This doesn’t matter much, really, since plenty of people still know how to crotchet and preserve fruit.

Not all skills are so widespread, not all knowledge so easily replicated. My grandmother’s grandfather knew how to live in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, much of which he navigated on foot long before there were many roads. He could build a house, find water or catch and tame a horse. By my mother’s generation, we were living in apartments, driving cars and water always came out of the tap. The only horses I was taught to catch were the ones on a merry-go-round.

With the change of wild habitats and the habits that abide them, there follows a slow attrition of those who are able to find their way through the wilderness. And so there are the last few traditional bush trackers across what remains of wild country on different continents. People who learned to track as they were growing up, for whom it is really a second nature. I read about the handful of master trackers in South Africa and Australia, who are trying to record their knowledge in a variety of ways – written, on the Internet, through classes held for others who would like to learn the art and skills, through professional training of future trackers for parks. The true heirs seem to be scientists – zoologists, botanists, wildlife management specialists.

I suppose I should have known, but I had no idea that the art of going where human rules don’t apply had become more rarified than learning ancient Greek.


CNN article – Last of the bush trackers on the trail of a dying art

Don’s Maps – Australian tracker profiles

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