The students returned from their well-earned week off to be thrown in to the next step of their intensive training to become a qualified and competent field guide. Their mentor for the next week would be Colin Patrick who would open their eyes to the intricate and fascinating world of track identification. Tracking week is always a highlight of any course and this time round it was no different as 20 eager students hung off every word as Colin navigated them the principles of how to interpret the bush from ground level.
It is amazing how much information can be gleaned from what, at first glance, looks like a mere scuff in the sand. Every disturbance of even the tiniest grain of sand can hold the key to unlocking who, what, when and why… With a little imagination and a lot of guidance, the students began to get to grips with this most ancient of arts and as the days progressed, their skill level rose to impressive new heights. It is incredible how quickly the brain can learn a new skill with the right tuition. By half way through the week, most of the class of 2016 were correctly identifying the majority of tracks, but tracking is one of those skills that one can never fully master. Watching Colin at work is quite an honour. His eyes see things that most people do not see, and day after day he added to the student’s ever growing database of tracks. By the time that Saturday’s assessment came about they had covered well over 50 tracks from mammals to beetles to birds, any of which (and more) might be asked.
However, the track and sign course covers more than just spoor. The true skill of tracking is to infer what the animals was doing, and why. Subtle differences to identify where the animal was looking due to the orientation of its feet might indicate why it changed direction or speed. How many animals were there? What speed were they moving at? Answering (or attempting to answer) these questions and more allow a good guide to truly understand what is going on around them and this marriage with nature is the ultimate goal for anyone looking to commit to a life in the bush. It is an almost spiritual feeling to feel this connected with one’s surroundings. It gives an unusual type of clarity that is unexplainable, one that most people do not know exist until they are trained to see things with a different perspective.
As the Sun rose on assessment day, so did the tension levels as the students watched Colin examining the ground for questions. 1 by 1 students were called forward to put their newfound knowledge to the test in a grueling trial of memory, interpretation and above all mental stamina! With the scores from this assessment counting towards their Bushwise practical scores, the pressure was evident as students studied the information circled in the sand from all angles. For a bystander it must have looked very strange. Some students on their hands and knees, others literally lying in the sand to get a better look, while more still milled around in the shade with expressions ranging from confusion to frustration to desperation as the searched their minds for the answer. Pens and finger nails were chewed to their limits as they dredged the plethora of information gleaned from Colin during the week, hoping for that moment of clarity when and if the answer finally arrives!
After a testing day, I have great pleasure in informing you that everyone performed admirably and Bushwise is hugely proud of their achievements. For many this was their first ever exposure to this intricate world and the amount of knowledge gained and reproduced was mightily impressive. The pinnacle of a track and sign assessment is to reach the fabled level 4 qualification, only possible by obtaining a perfect score – something that no Bushwise student has ever achieved on a first attempt in over 9 years of operation.
I am proud and delighted to inform all of you that Christan Haape managed to achieve this remarkable feat! To Christan, from all of us on the Bushwise team, we tip our bush hats to your triumph and thank you for raising the bar for future students! You can rest assured that your name will now be etched in the annuals of Bushwise history for evermore. Congratulations from us all!
Bush Greeting from Ben & The Bushwise Team