If you examine a foot or more of open sand, you’ll likely see signs of active life etched in its surface granules. Perhaps a mouse passed by, a bird hopped through, the wind traced arcs with a blade of grass and little bits of plant matter skirted across the surface.
A friend taught me tracking some years back. We found coyote, fox, mouse, skunk, turtle, bird, deer, wind, water and human tracks in the dunes of Truro where we walked.
I remember feeling a dark fascination when he showed me how a human in distress leaves a “toe drag.” When exhaustion makes every footfall a struggle, the toes drag, etching a line between each footprint.
The longer the toe drag, he said, the sooner you’ll find the body.
To this day, I take notice when I see toe drags whether left by a four-legged or two-legged traveler ahead of me.
Tracks aren’t always visual. Consider scent tracks that animals use along with some people.
Scent tracking is a fun challenge for those of us with an acute sense of smell. I recently tracked (secretly) a man in a crowded exhibition by his aftershave scent he left in a hallway. I tracked a woman who bore the scent of her short-haired dog up three flights of stairs and into a classroom. And sometimes, while driving, I track fish delivery trucks who leave scent trails on the road. If I can tolerate it for more than a few minutes without having to take an alternative route, I pass the truck at a restaurant or store.
Some tracks hold memories. A shallow hole remains in a shady corner of my yard that my dog, now 8 years dead, dug to keep himself cool. I can’t bear to fill it in.
And mystery, too, can hide in a track. While walking on red rock boulders along a stream in Utah, I came upon a huge reptilian footprint. Dinosaur?
We all leave tracks. We leave them in our homes, the way we set up our rooms, the way we organize or don’t organize our papers, how we move around the house, how we landscape our yards, and even in the words we use that others hear.
What do our tracks say about us?
What does the stretch of ground you inhabit say about you?
Is it gorgeous? Comforting? Private? Grand or unassuming? Simple or complex? Untouchably perfect? Relaxed? Embarrassingly disorganized?
It makes sense to put down the best tracks we can while we are creating them. You never know who’s tracking you!
Best, I think, to consciously make tracks: to be proud of where we’ve walked, of what we saw, how we felt and what we loved.