Monday, July 15, 2013

The fruits of our journey

“Hey Mom! 
We need an answer over here!”

The questions seemed to leap out of the low growing plants this passed tracking club as a large group of budding naturalists scoured the trail for signs and tasty berries. Mothers and children, exchange students and apprentices, 19 all told made the trip out to Kimbercote to see what mysteries the woods held that day.
            Early and often berries captured our attention. Mulberries and strawberries, raspberries and currants, lined the side path of the Bruce Trail we chose to wander. Among the low plants we also found marks in the mud that formed from the rain the night before. More then once we found raccoons sharing watering holes with birds. Deer splayed their hooves in the soft muddy trail edges.
            As we hit the creek edge the trail cut west and rose out of the valley. As the path rose the landscape changed. The open path with plants, shrubs, and young trees gave way to denser crops of trees and tightly growing cedars. After a steep dark path we found a clearing with a picnic table facing a great view of Blue Mountain and Georgian Bay. Looking out into the cloudy valley we had snacks and chatted about the questions that we had taken with us.
            A short path took us back to the Bruce. Every step showing another clue to what animals had passed on the long descending slope all the way to the mulberry tree that we started at. I’m sure many eyes watched us part, wondering when this large group of naturalist will take to the woods again.

Garrin Carter

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Experiences That Connect

The large majestic birds circled high above our heads climbing as they went, their rotations taking them closer together, then apart. When the passing got so close they were almost touching one flipped over and reached with its outstretched talon to the other, almost clasping ... but missed. This dance played out over and over above our tracking group’s heads as we stood mouths open. These beautiful young Bald Eagles appeared to be practicing the moves that will one day lead to mating. The display was a wonderful high watermark of a rich and full outing.
With what will likely be one of the last substantial snowfalls of this winter, our small group gathered at the Kimbercote location here in the Beaver Valley. Being aware that the thick powder of snow had just finished falling about two hours prior, we knew that any clear tracks we found had been made fairly recently that morning. This made keeping our heads up an important practice knowing that what made those tracks might be just around the corner.
As exciting as the tracks were it was the other types of sign that caught our attention for much of our wander. In particular, the trees inspired many great questions like “how many different types of woodpeckers have been feeding on this tree?” and “What’s been browsing on these low branches?”. Extra thanks to Kyle for all the great hints and tips on Tree ID and leaving us with some great questions.

Looking up, we came across a raccoon cleaning its tail in the tree above seemingly unconcerned with our presents. Does it even see us? In touching the bed of a hare that had been lying in it just minutes before and untangling a maze of tracks to find it was all done by just one coyote are experiences that connect you with these creatures in a way that is unforgettable. Only by looking closely at the vole’s tiny tracks could we have noticed the small spots of blood that drew us completely into its world and made us fully wonder where it is now. By being out there in the woods we become a part of that world, not just observers of it. Most of the time it’s not that the aloof raccoon hasn’t noticed you yet, it’s just more likely that it has been watching you for a very long time.

Garrin Carter

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tracks around the world

The lagomorph that made this bed
doesn't turn white in the winter

This months Tracking Club meeting had an international feel to it as not only did we have people from Kitchener-Waterloo, Orillia, Toronto, and Guelph but also from Germany, UK, Japan and beyond thanks to the University of Toronto Outing Club and their group of exchange students. With 24 trackers taking to the land it was one of our biggest groups yet.

As the snow fell on the hills of the Beaver Valley in chilly -10c air, the group went out with the hopes of catching those tracks before they got covered up by the falling white blanket. Our local fox and coyote population seemed to be out and about as usual with the deer that left signs of their beds, nibbling, and passage. The chickadees and Hairy Woodpeckers kept their eyes on the group as the group spotted a mink trail and caught sight of a European Hare bounding away.

The day was thick with good questions. Was this a raccoon or a porcupine? Where is the animal that made these tracks now? Can you see them in your minds eye? The day also inspired wonderful insights into how well these animals are adapted to the chilly winter and how even in those temperatures there is plenty of flowing water to be found.

At the end of the day though it is just great to get out and spend time quietly sitting in the woods, inviting nature to go about it’s routine, then to return to so many like-minded souls to share these experiences. Thank you to everyone who came out and we hope to see you all again soon.

Garrin Carter

Monday, December 3, 2012

Season's first snow tracks!

A light snow and stiff North wind marked the morning as we headed out for this month’s Tracking Club meeting. Four brave souls, including little 22 month old Cuinn, climbed the hills of Kimbercote in search of tracks in the snow.
 Winter seems to have finally arrived here in the Beaver Valley and with it comes that white blanket that makes our job so much easier. Rabbits, squirrels, mice, deer, and many others leave their marks clearly in the snow and give us the opportunity to really study gaits. We covered the majority of the 100 acre property and spent some time on the Bruce Trail. 
The highlight had to be the tracks of a large deer moving just ahead of us in our wanderings. Maybe next time we’ll get to see it make those tracks and I hope you’ll join us in the search!
Garrin Carter

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tracking Club marks the important stuff

Better late than never they say. Nature felt this was the time to deliver the rains it had held close all summer onto the lands here in the Beaver-Valley area. I’m sure the rivers and ponds were quite thankful but it was a bit much for our monthly Beaver-Valley & Blue Mountain Tracking Club meeting to go out on the land. 

While not quite perfect tracking weather it was a great opportunity for us to gather in the bottom of the newly renovated Kimbercote barn and scrape some wood into fine new bows.

With projects in hand we settled in for a nice day of carving and conversation. Between draw knife strokes we talked of deer moving through the property and acorn production. We tillered and reminisced of tree climbing in our youth. Kyle shared some great stories of growing up from B.C. to the East Coast and a special ‘Thank You’ goes to Lisa Christine, who made a wonderful salad to share.

Hopefully next time we can get out and put our noses to the ground but to be honest we can do that anytime by ourselves. We get together to share with each other and build community. Some days don’t always take you to the places you think you’ll end up at when you walk out the door but this one gave us an opportunity to build connections with people we can relate to which is what community is really all about.

~Garrin Carter
2012 Apprentice
(Photo credit: Nicole Carter)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To Build a Bow

Looking at the Sticks and Stones course calendar long ago I saw the heading ‘Bow Making’ and a wave of excitement washed over me. I’ve had a big place in my heart for archery since I was 11 when I took two archery courses at the local YMCA. For years I would shoot my little bow at the side of the house until my arms grew sore. A little while back I rekindled that love of the bow and have since tried my hand at field archery, hunting, and indoor target shooting. I own a few bows now but what I’ve always wanted is a bow I’ve made with my own two hands. I started looking into making bows but got intimidated and never followed through. This has been a chance to realize that long held desire.
Everything I had read in the past implied the steps were as simple as shape the wood, bend it, and shoot it. The truth is you need to know the wood you are working with intimately. You learn every bump and groove, every bend and knot. At the end of a long satisfying day of scraping you can close your eyes and see the grain. While the tools and the steps in building a bow are simple, it’s the patience and the care you take that truly create the final product.
I think back today to the large quartered log I started with and find it almost hard to believe that the beautiful piece I have now was once in there. Skeet often referred to bow building as ‘learning to speak wood’. I feel this experience has been the first few words in what I hope to be a long conversation.
-Garrin Carter  
2012 Apprentice

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Miracle of Tracking

Tracking is a skill that has been around since the dawn of time. It’s not even a strictly human phenomenon. The origin of tracking represents interpretation of life, in the form of story and adventure. The human ability to track, to understand cause and effect within the environment and ourselves, is perhaps what our large brains developed for, and what makes us human. The San Bushmen of the Kalahari are a culture that epitomizes what it means to be master trackers, and interpreters of a landbase – they know the tracks of their Cheetah friends as well as they know the wrinkles on their own faces.

At Sticks and Stones Wilderness School, we consider tracking to be part of the miracle of life. There is truly no better way to understand yourself and your place in the natural world around you. To track, you must become the animal you are following... you must move like they move, see the food that they see and the shelter that they seek, and hear and smell the animals around them that peak their interest. Some say that you can’t know somebody else until you walk a mile in their shoes. And tracking is exactly that empathetic ability.

I came up for a Winter Wildlife Tracking course at the school to better understand tracking. Having grown up in the city, it was difficult for me to realize the importance of tracking in the modern world. Unfortunately, most of our modern lives do not enable us to interact positively with the animals around us. It took me a while to get past the cultural barrier that prevents many of us today from becoming passionate about tracking.

The Bushmen are an example of a culture that has lived in tune with the natural world for thousands of years, and they have done that using tracking as an integral part of their way of life. They track because it feeds them – whether it’s hunting or fueling their souls with natural wonder and curiosity. Their stories are about the beauty of the savannah, their heroes are the great rains that fuel their ecosystem, and their neighbours are the animals that feed them. Asking a child of their culture why they track would be akin to asking a Kudu why it eats grass.

When I really got my face in the snow, I came to a few realizations. Firstly, when you adopt the attitude that everything you need to know is right in front of you, you come to know that you are able to solve any mystery, natural or otherwise. I was never good at math or physics, but I am relieved in knowing that tracking is just as hard, and that if you can track, you can really do anything humans are capable of. If Einstein was indigenous, he undoubtedly would have been a master tracker.

When I first started tracking, I felt dumb. As a city boy, I am not used to questioning and discerning things for myself (the TTC is over there, marked by a flashing sign, great... and oh, the sidewalk is there, with a road with cars on it – all is crystal clear). Skeet and I trailed two deer over the course of the weekend, though I didn’t know the tracks were being made as we followed them. Every once in a while we would come across tracks that showed them stopping to sniff and look at something in the direction we were coming from. Skeet kept asking me what they were doing, and I have to admit it took me quite some time before I came to the obvious (well, maybe in hindsight) conclusion that they were watching us the whole time. It took me a while to build confidence in my deductive abilities, and I suppose that makes sense, because like any muscle, the questioning mind requires exercise.

A white-tailed deer pauses to track us as we drive by

I plan to track coyotes at home in Toronto. I am truly learning how to question things in the wild, and how to read the answers that are always written on the landscape. I’ve also learned that to be a sustainable, Earth-based culture, we need to apply all our smarts usually reserved for physics, engineering, and complex mathematics to the natural world – which is what tracking does. And if you ever take up tracking, you may find it feels a lot more natural than other academic pursuits, perhaps because our brains have evolved to analyze nature.

Why does tracking in the modern world have to be any different for us than it is to the San Bushmen? Do we not all crave connection with the magnificent animals around us? Are we not in desperate need today of cultures that live in tune with their landbases? Does tracking not fuel our natural curiosity, and pattern our brains in a healthy way? Is hunting not a viable way to put food on the table? At Sticks and Stones, tracking is no less sacred to us than it is to the thousands of indigenous cultures in the past who have included tracking in their way of being. The tracks of our animal neighbours are invitations for us to come back to the natural world we have tried to leave behind.