As a child he was taught to respect nature by an Apache elder he called Grandfather, now as a bestselling author and master tracker Tom Brown, Jr., shares his secrets for nurturing and saving our planet.
Tom Brown, Jr., is America's most acclaimed outdoorsman, tracker, and teacher. When he was eight he met Stalking Wolf, an Apache elder who taught the young man how to survive in the wild, and more importantly, how to value our place in the natural order.
For more than three decades, Tom Brown, Jr., has shared these insights with the world through teaching, writing, and film. Now, for the first time, he has detailed actions that each of us can take to help heal our ailing planet.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Tom Brown, Jr., began to learn hunting and tracking at the age of eight under the tutelage of an Apache elder, medicine man, and scout in Toms River, New Jersey. Tom is the author of sixteen books on nature. In 1978, Tom founded the Tracker School in the New Jersey Pine Barrens where he offers more than one hundred classes about wilderness survival and environmental protection.
Read an Excerpt
From our earliest days together, Grandfather taught me how to care for the Earth. Grandfather didn't teach this by suggesting the best way to be a caretaker of nature; he taught by example.
One sunny morning, Grandfather, Rick and I were just beginning a journey from the Primitive Camp on a trip to collect a particular herb. Shortly after we began our walk, Grandfather noticed a large pine branch the wind had knocked down onto some huckleberry bushes. He stopped, walked over to it and meticulously, over a twenty-five-minute period, broke it into smaller pieces, scattering them around over a large area. After watching Grandfather for a few minutes, Rick and I asked if we could help him. Grandfather replied, "Watch now." He was hardly ever one for long explanations; he wanted us to observe exactly what he was doing. He wanted us to see which parts of the tree were rotten enough to be crumbled onto the Earth, which parts were to be broken up into smaller pieces and piled up for future animal shelters. He never threw the broken branches to distribute them around the area. Grandfather would find just the right spot for each one. Even after dragging the log, he gently put it on the ground in a way that didn't interfere with the plants growing there. The log also created a good space for an animal burrow.
Grandfather then told us that by his actions, he was feeding the Earth, helping her to break down the decaying pine bark and wood so they could provide nutrients to the plant life and contribute to the soils of life. The small piles of broken-up branches were constructed in good places to be used as shelter for smaller animals. This was one example of how Grandfather taught by example, not by talking about "how to" caretake.
When Grandfather first came to the Pine Barrens in the early 1940s, he discovered that tree bandits had cut a large semicircle-shaped swath of cedar trees near where Rick and I later spent so many years of our youth with him. The cedar trees outside of the cut area formed a majestic half ring of tall cedars we called the Cathedral.
He spent many hours caretaking and healing a portion of this area. In a section close to the Cathedral, Grandfather cleared the area of deadfalls and discarded branches and piles of brush. He then opened up channels for the water to be able to again flow through the area, and then he replanted the area with baby cedar saplings. When Rick and I were introduced to the camp more than fifteen years later, the young cedar trees were just over waist high, with a lone stump, midtorso high in the center, like a natural lectern facing the majestic Cathedral of cedars.
The area you had to go through to get to the Cathedral was a mess of deadfall, tangles of brush and slash left over from the tree bandits. I would have to weave my way through, ducking under bent branches and avoiding tangles of greenbrier on the way to the Cathedral, the place where Grandfather eventually taught us what he called tree preaching. That area of tangles and slash was an example of what the entire place had looked like before Grandfather reclaimed the area, preparing it so that in the coming years, a healthy cedar swamp would once again thrive there.
The Cathedral area was a place of beauty. There was a sacred feel to it with the tall cedars creating a place of quietude, the only sounds being the birdsong and the wind whispering through the high branches.
Later that day, Grandfather showed me a third, very different area, as a way to demonstrate the importance of caretaking. We had come upon a place where many years before, a large tree had fallen onto two growing pine trees. The large fallen tree had lain on the pine trees until it naturally decomposed. The effect on the two pine trees was dramatic. The two thirty-foot trees were misshapen and bent in odd, even grotesque angles. Their growth-stunted and diseased areas showed where the fallen tree lay on the trunks and branches. Grandfather said to Rick and me, "I not here to caretake when this happen." Sometimes seeing the results of where a healing is not undertaken is more powerful than seeing the positive results of caretaking.
Grandfather constantly, through these examples and many others, stressed the importance and effectiveness of seemingly small acts resulting in long-term positive effects on the land. He said it was not only enough to be a caretaker when collecting, one had to be a healer of the Earth as well.
The word for "tracking" in Grandfather's language is also the same word for "awareness." Tracking and awareness are interlinked, to the point that awareness comes from reading the tracks and you become aware of tracks from choosing to be aware of your surroundings. Grandfather could look at a track and tell you what kind of animal had made that track, if it was male or female, how old the track was, the physical and emotional well-being of the animal and much more. In addition, Grandfather's awareness was on many levels, physical and spiritual, expanding out, sometimes, for miles.
Grandfather's awareness of his surroundings drew him to where and what needed caretaking or healing. He would act to accommodate any imbalance, big or seemingly insignificant, with an attitude of awe, thanksgiving and respect. He believed that no act of caretaking was too small. Each positive action built upon itself, creating a dynamic that grew exponentially. He believed that we are all connected through what he called the Spirit That Moves In and Through All Things.
Grandfather and I Took a Walk to the Dogbane Patch
Grandfather and I were sitting by the fire one morning, about three fingers (an hour) after sunrise. Grandfather's people did not have clocks; they used the movement of the sun to measure time. They would hold their hand out toward the sun and measure its passage by the time it took to move one or more fingers of time. On this day, I was nine years old, about two years into my apprenticeship with Grandfather.
He asked me if I would like to take a walk with him to the dogbane patch, which was a bit unusual because, not wanting to miss anything, I already followed Grandfather everywhere he went. Sometimes he had to wave Rick and me away, yelling that he was just going into the bushes to urinate.
So I knew something was up, and I went on full alert. I expanded my awareness and was resolved to observe everything we passed on the short walk. At the time, Grandfather was working on a quad braid, using four different types of cordage. He'd run out of dogbane, so he needed to collect some more stalks.
We slowly fox-walked to the dogbane patch, taking about twenty minutes to get there. Grandfather collected four stalks, taking his time, praying for each plant and letting it know how it was going to be used. Then we made our way back to camp.
Once back, Grandfather asked me, "What did you see?" Well, boy, was I ready. I spent the next thirty minutes describing in great detail everything I had observed during the walk. I talked about the fox that had crossed and recrossed the path the night before, about the newly broken branch on an oak tree from a storm earlier in the week. About the rabbit that had run away when the fox had arrived. I described the state of certain plant life, the different colors of mosses I'd seen and so on until I had exhausted all I'd observed.
Then I made a big mistake. I still almost regret asking the question, but I did. I said, "So, Grandfather, what did you see?" It was late morning when Grandfather began to relate what he had seen on the walk. After the first hour or so, I began to wonder if we'd taken the same walk together. It was like he was describing a different planet from the one I was on. His levels of awareness were so vast and, at the same time, interlocking. How this man saw so much as he slowly walked by left me in a state of awe. Every shift of the wind was mentioned. He referred to the recent animal tracks and ones made in the past month or so. How the track personalities showed two particular foxes had been using a section of the trail on a regular basis. He described things he had no business being aware of unless he had belly-crawled by them.
At dusk, as we made dinner and sat by the fire, I was getting sleepy, and Grandfather still was describing what he'd observed during our walk. His dissertation still had not reached the place of the dogbane patch when I drifted into sleep.
I felt so beat-up and humiliated the next morning when I awoke. After spending time in my sacred sit spot, I walked back to the same path Grandfather and I had taken the day before. I was on my hands and knees, proving out all I could remember of Grandfather's observations. He had been right about everything he'd said. I suddenly realized that he had been describing each plant and bush that grew along the path, the individual ones and the family groups. He'd observed each patch of moss, the thickness of the pine needle cover, what birds had called and when in the journey.
After I'd been on the trail for about an hour, Grandfather suddenly appeared out of nowhere, something he did on a regular basis. He asked me, "So did you prove me wrong yet?" The answer of course was a resounding no-everything I'd remembered of what he'd described had been proven out 100 percent.
For me, that was a difficult lesson to accept, but that walk with Grandfather continues to teach me today. As the years passed and my skills and awareness grew, I continuously pushed myself to not only see what was in my environs, but to feel them as well.
As we all need to be in a healthy state emotionally and physically, so too the Earth needs to be in a balanced state. As all indigenous peoples around the world hold as a truth, Grandfather believed that every entity on the Earth is alive, that it has its own identity and purpose. He referred to water as Earth Mother's blood, the rocks as her bones, the wind as her voice.
If you have an infected wound on your arm, it affects your entire body. You might run a fever from the infection raising your temperature; your mental processes might feel sluggish. Your energy level is low, and your body craves rest and recovery to help heal the infection.
That analogy is true for the Earth today, except instead of one infection, there are thousands upon thousands of ways humankind continues to put stress on the land, seas, waterways and air. When one part is suffering, the entire organism becomes sick. Healing the Earth and restoring balance to the environment were a major part of Grandfather's vision.
When I started the Tracker School in 1978, it was to carry on the vision I shared with Grandfather, teaching other like-minded people ways not only to interact with the Earth in a positive manner, but to heal the places that have been put out of balance through the indiscriminate taking of resources and pollution in all its forms.
When you go on a long sailing trip, you learn that your supplies are limited. Between ports of call, pretty much all you have is on the boat. If supplies run low, you ration what food and water you have. We, as a society, need to move toward this lifeboat mentality. Our supplies onboard-like clean air, drinkable water, forest cover, fish populations in fresh water and our oceans-seem to be diminishing quicker than we ever imagined possible. Worldwide food shortages are a constant, with a third of the world's population going to bed hungry each night.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed." A major test we all face today is a change in our consciousness toward preserving the natural resources around us; not thinking of them as commodities that, once harvested or mined, will make us richer. It's a consciousness change that is the opposite of "He who dies with the most toys wins." If our conscious attitude is to seek ways to lessen our "footprint" in the ways we live, we'll use fewer resources and share more of what we have with others. Small acts like combining a number of errands to run all at one time when making trips to town will cut down on the gas burned and wear and tear on the environment.
Let's face it, folks. Our Earth Mother, our home, is in trouble. She provides us the material for our shelters, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the fires that warm us. We are seeing firsthand her resources dwindle as oceans warm, potable drinking water becomes scarcer and air becomes increasingly polluted. This is true especially around cities and industrial areas where the spread of all sorts of chemicals, industrial pollution and smog infiltrates our environments and bodies.
One of the major problems we face comes from modern man's belief that one can rule the environment, treat it with contempt, extract resources, leave the waste and move on. We, as a human race, must change the way we view and interact with the natural world around us if we care about what kind of world our grandchildren's grandchildren will inherit. We must accept that it is no longer enough to be a caretaker or steward of our natural world; each of us individually must embrace the role of healer when it comes to saving what's left of our Earth Mother. Without her, we have nothing.
This book is a call to action, to affirm that each one of us can effect positive change as healers and children of the Earth. Nothing you do is insignificant. Each time you pick up a piece of trash or lift a fallen branch off the bush bent down under its weight, you are making a positive difference, energetically and physically. Besides positive physical actions, a consciousness change toward how we connect to and interact with our environments, viewing ourselves in relationship to our environment, is key to our survival.
Grandfather stressed to Rick and me how each interaction with our environment, no matter how big or small, sends concentric rings out. These concentric rings make an impact all around us, near and far, through the Spirit That Moves In and Through All Things. Like a pebble dropped into quiet waters, the effects of our actions ripple out. How far these ripples go out would amaze you.