by Todd Walker
My legs felt like a bowl of jello sliding down an old wash board. I crouched in a non-human silhouette stalking in Ultra Slow Motion. A twig beneath my foot snapped and my prey jolted his head toward the sound. I froze and hoped my screaming quadriceps would support my motionless body until he dipped his head to graze again.
What was my prey? A deer realistically mimicked by our instructor, Mark Warren. This was my first of several classes I’ve attended at Medicine Bow in the north Georgia mountains.
I discovered Mark and his primitive school of earthlore from reading his first book, “Two Winters in a Tipi: My Search for the Soul of the Forest.” With every turn of the page, I knew I had unearthed a rare gem in the mountains of Southern Appalachia. That was over three years ago. To date, Mark has published his fourth volume of “Secrets of the Forest” and two books in a historical novel trilogy on “Wyatt Earp: An American Odyssey.” These books reflect Warren’s lifelong pursuits as a naturalist, instructor of Cherokee survival skills, and wild west history.
Over a year ago, I shared my thoughts on the first book in the Secrets of the Forest series, calling it, “The Best Outdoor Education Book I’ve Read.” I should amend my statement to include volumes II and III in my assessment. Knowing Mark’s passion for archery and canoeing, the last volume in the series, which I’ve yet to read, I’ll bet he saved the best for last. For now, I want to highlight Volume III…
Eye to Eye with the Animals in the Wild and At Play in the Wild
The opening of this article was one of many exercises our class took part of in a two-day class at Medicine Bow. Reading this volume brought back my Real World experience as vividly as the day I studied a one-foot square plot of earth for slight changes Mark secretly made. Revisiting my field notes from the Stalking and Tracking class reveled just how much knowledge and experience had been shared that weekend. However, I had one regret – not taking better notes. Not a problem. I now have at my fingertips his many years of experience in a beautifully illustrated, photographed, and written field guide.
Who would benefit from this book?
The obvious benefit is for hunters pursuing game with traditional archery equipment. Hunting an animal with primitive weapons requires that one be as close as possible to the intended prey. In doing so, an ethical hunter shows respect and thanksgiving to the animal for providing nourishment and many sustainable resources.
Observers and photographers of wild animals would do well to practice stalking and tracking. Many phantoms of the forest you’ve only dreamed of capturing in your lens will appear when practicing these techniques. No telephoto lens required.
Anyone wishing to challenge their physical prowess should add stalking to their workout regimen. The level of functional fitness needed to stalk wild animals is different from any sport or recreational activity I’ve ever experienced. Mark told us that martial artists found the most success of anyone attending his stalking class. Even more so than professional athletes.
The main benefit I personally received under Mark’s instruction was the complete immersion in nature. Slowing down to a snail’s pace uncovered small, “invisible” wilderness details unnoticed when trekking full speed with human locomotion.
An analogy Mark used was that of a rock tossed into a pond. The impact ripples to every shoreline. A stalker’s task is to minimize the wake in the animal’s living space. One’s goal is to become part of the “wild” world and not merely a visitor.
“Stalking and tracking are symbiotic. Tracking teaches where to stalk. Stalking teaches how to interpret a nuance in a track.” ~ Mark Warren
Educators will find lessons, exercises, and games throughout this volume. In our age of electronics, parents have the challenge of disconnecting kids from devices and coax them into trading virtual screens for forest streams. Mark offers hundreds of ways to make this transition fun, educational, and experiential.
If you are searching to find a unique gift for someone special this Christmas, I would recommend checking the book link at Medicine Bow. I’ve not found a more comprehensive book detailing the lost art of tracking and stalking.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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