The front yard before adding edible plants.
The front yard after adding herbs and flowers.
Grandfather often stressed the concept of moving Toward instead of To a destination. By combining this state of mind with wide-angle vision and fox walking, your awareness of the environment increases exponentially. When your intent is to go to a place, your focus is locked on destination, similar to tunnel vision. When you move toward a destination, you find yourself making side trips, exploring things that grab your attention, being led toward adventures and experiences along the journey.
Grandfather also encouraged going without time or destination, which takes this experience to an even deeper level of awareness and connection with the environment. With the accelerated pace of most of our lives today, going without time or destination is a major luxury, but even if for an afternoon, to wander on the landscape without time or destination leads to adventures and interesting discoveries, as well as a deeper connection with the Earth.
To illustrate this concept to his students, Tom Brown tells a story of Tom and his son walking out to get the mail at the end of their short driveway on Long Beach Island and returning to the house two hours later. They were moving toward the mailbox when they noticed raccoon tracks and began to track the raccoon. This in turn led them to other side trips that eventually got them back to their house, without remembering to pick up the mail.
‘Caretakers’ as Healers of the Earth
Tom tells a story of Grandfather collecting a bow stave, how he would wander onto the landscape and what would normally take an hour or two, could take half the day or more. As Grandfather moved toward the location he felt led to collect the bow stave from, he would be interacting with the environment, caretaking the woods and swamps as he went.
When collecting a bow stave, Grandfather would seek out an area where the saplings were growing in a clump, struggling with each other for sunlight. These saplings are hardier and stronger than a single straight sapling growing by itself by the edge of a stream. By taking a sapling from a struggling group, Grandfather would be enhancing the growth of the saplings left behind and have a bow stave with a stronger draw to it.
Grandfather always had seeds in a pocket of his buckskins. He would get to an area where the soil and light were just right for a certain herb or vegetable, take out a handful of seeds and meticulously pick seeds that would thrive in that particular spot and plant them. He was always doing little things to help the Earth. Along the way, he would remove fallen branches sitting on the lower plants and bushes. If he saw a tree had fallen against another tree and was in danger of falling to the ground, disturbing a place an animal might make a lair, he would gently place the deadfall onto the ground in a place where it would be less of a disturbance to any plants growing in the area.
Grandfather would not only want to interact with the environment to maintain a state of homeostasis, he wanted to leave the area better than it was before. That is the way of the Caretaker. Essentially, a Caretaker is a healer of the Earth.
Walking (and Living) Gently on the Land
Another way Grandfather would improve an area was by collecting seedlings from a place they would have had difficulty growing in. He’d reverently carry a sprouting acorn or other plant to the perfect location for it to thrive. Tom reports how there are oak trees Grandfather relocated in and around the Primitive Camp, where tracker classes are held today, that are perfect specimens, thriving fifty years later.
The Primitive Camp is also the site of Grandfather’s main camp where Tom and Grandfather’s grandson, Rick, spent a major part of their youth. Tom paints a verbal picture of Grandfather, with a germinating acorn cupped in his hands, wrapped in sphagnum moss, slowly walking through the woods in deep reverence and appreciation.
When Grandfather walked anywhere, it was as if he was floating above the earth. He walked so softly, slow and meticulous, with the utmost care of the substrate, drifting along in a fluid motion. Because his steps were so soft and slow, animals he passed would never startle or bolt as he passed them in his pure attitude of worship and reverence. As a result of his slow and fluid way of moving, Grandfather could always slip up on Tom and Rick easily, surprising them whenever he chose to. It was as if he left no evidence of his passing on the landscape.
Tom relates how Grandfather would collect decaying wood in a pack with bone meal and fats to make mulch that he would carry with him in case he found a plant or sapling that was in a poor location for its growth. Other times, Grandfather would collect a handful of sphagnum moss as mulch, to keep a seedling moist as he searched for the right spot to plant it. His job was to do for nature that which it could not do for itself.
Caretaking in Your Own Backyard
Sustainable backyard transformation, before.
Backyard transformation, after.
Another approach to Caretaking can happen in your yard. Raised beds planted with flowers, vegetables and herbs attract and support many forms of life. The before and after pictures with this article were taken by a Tracker friend, Kelley, who brought her vision of what the grounds around her new home could become and transformed the lawn of her new home into an inviting place for the area’s wildlife.
In her words, she describes her intent in creating her gardens: “I only garden for bees, birds/hummers, butterflies and any frogs, lizards, chameleons etc. And veggies/fruits. This is a way to give back and create beauty for all.”
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