NOTE: This post has been sitting in draft for a long time, and I’m finally publishing it. I actually attended Tracker School in May 2010.
About 9 years ago, I picked up the movie The Hunted from an ex-rental discount bin. I hadn’t heard of it, and didn’t know what to expect, but it had Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro in it, so I figured it would be at least decent. Instead of being just decent, I loved it. Apart from becoming a favorite movie, it started me down the path of discovering Tom Brown (who was a technical consultant on the skills and knife used in the movie) and a field of interest that continues today.
Tom Brown is a man with a lot of history. I won’t bother reciting it all, but to summarize; he was effectively raised by arguably one of the last truly native-living native Americans, an Apache known to him as Grandfather. Grandfather had spent his life learning the skills of all the still-existing “primitive” peoples, and passed on a good deal of that information to Brown. Part of Brown’s upbringing was to learn Grandfather’s love of the Earth, and his fear that modern people are destroying it, and before too long there will be nothing left to destroy.
Since 1978 (when the school opened), Brown has been on a mission to educate as many people as possible about the Earth and the peril it faces through our hands. Through the lens of these primitive skills and ways of thinking, he aims to bring people closer in touch with the world around them, and at the same time to make them more self-sufficient in a survival situation, or to even be able to live fully from the land.
Fast forward to about a year and a half ago, when I picked up a copy of the book Emergency: This Book will Save Your Life after hearing Tim Ferris talking about it. Amongst many other awesome things (it’s a fantastically fun read!) the book mentions attending Tom Brown’s Tracker School and learning skills for surviving after “TEOTWAWKI” (The End Of The World As We Know It). I’ve long been at least a little bit interested in the Survivalist mentality and community, so this caught my attention.
I looked into tom Brown’s Tracker School and found out that the “Standard” class (the foundation for over 75 classes run by his school) was run periodically in California, as opposed to his normal offerings in New Jersey. Convenient. In a conversation with my boss, we talked about the book I said that I wanted to do this class. To my surprise, he was also interested and threw down the challenge of “if you do it, I’ll do it”.
Now jump forward another few months to a Sunday morning in May and we were driving together down to Bear Creek, California (near Santa Cruz) in hammering rain, wondering what the next week would hold for us. After hiking our gear in to the camp area and setting up our tents (still in the rain), we were ready to find out.
What followed were 6 days of the densest transfer of information I’ve ever been a part of. We were up and at it most days before 7am, and often didn’t crawl into our damp tents until 11pm or later. Most of the time we were in a classroom setting, where I filled two entire notebooks with notes and diagrams, quotes and questions. When we weren’t in the classroom, we were outside in the classroom of Nature.
Rather than trying to walk you through the entire week (this is already a long post), here’s a list of some of the things we covered (in rough order):
- Knives: picking the right type for the job and how to sharpen a blade
- Survival mentality
- Fire: why it’s important, how to create it, where to position it
- Cordage: how to create it, basic techniques and materials
- Water: how it moves, where to find it, how to filter it
- Traps: catching game for food
- Tracking: gait, identification, standard vocab, pressure releases, movement, track aging, sign tracking
- Brain tanning
- Stone tools/flint knapping
- Shelter (basic: debris hut through more permanent round-houses etc)
- Cooking techniques and approaches
- Throwing sticks
- Awareness (an entire section/discipline)
- Edible and Medicinal/useful plants
At the end of it, I’d like to think that we came away with a foundational understanding of some of the skills and attitude you need to keep yourself alive in a survival situation. I’m definitely not running out to live in the forest any time soon, but I feel a lot more confident that I could at least survive in some tougher conditions than before.
In addition to those “basic” survival skills though, are some of the more interesting ones which can influence your every day life. Appreciation for the uniqueness of everything in Nature. Thinking about the very style with which you walk (and therefore leave tracks). Increased awareness of what’s going on around you. The near-meditative state of wide-angle vision, and maybe even the Spiritual connection of all things to a single thread.
Tracker School was a truly unique experience, something I will never forget. I don’t know if I’m ready to go back for another class of some sort just yet, but I quite possibly will at some point. I have a huge new family there now, who have all shared experiences that most other people don’t understand, and won’t understand just from reading these words. If you feel any desire to do anything like this, I would strongly encourage you to act upon it. The experience might just change your life a bit.