During eight hours of instruction on the past two Thursdays Ron & Noah shared their knowledge of animal tracking and awareness skills with the already competent educational staffs of The Conservation Foundation and the Resiliency Institute, both of Naperville, Illinois .

On day one the participants learned how to identify footprints made by deer, canines, felines, rodents, and members of the weasel family; counting toes, looking for claw marks, and identifying the general shape of the prints.  We then studied the ways in which animals walk and how those gaits reflect the “personalities” of the critters.  Deer are “quiet walkers”, as are coyotes and bobcats.   Bears and raccoons are the “tough guys” of the woods, so their walking style reflects confidence and lack of fear.  The “ready-to-runs” are those prey animals whose gaits reflect living constantly on the edge between life and death.  After Noah demonstrated all of these walking patterns (as best as they could be done by a human), all of the students tried their hands (and knees) at recreating the personalities of each class of animals.

The themes of the second Thursday were more esoteric, dealing not with measurable traits of animals but rather with subtleties that indicate their presence none-the-less.  Answering questions such as: Who lives in that hole?  Has that plant been chewed by a deer or a rabbit?  Who’s scat is that and why is there so much in one place?

On a more personal level the participants practiced techniques designed to help them observe more wildlife, to walk quietly, to see better, and to hear more.  For twenty quiet minutes they immersed themselves in an exercise that taught the principle of Concentric Rings, learning the concept that everything affects everything else.  And they then had fun accepting the challenge of the Awareness Walk, using all of their newly learned skills to observe out-of-place artifacts in a natural setting.

Day two ended with a presentation on animal skulls.  The names of the animals were not important.  The emphasis was on how much could be learned simply by observing the teeth, the shape of the head, the location of the eyes, and more.

During each class the students were engaged and enthusiastic.  They asked good questions, shared much of their own extensive knowledge, and good-heartedly participated in all of the exercises.  They were indeed a pleasure to work with.