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Tracking Workshop, Riverstone Farm, Floyd, June 27 and 28

May 29, 2015

An Introduction to Holistic Tracking:

Learning to Read and Live The Great Story

“I am trying to teach you that this alphabet of “natural objects” (soils and rivers, birds and beasts) spells out a story. Once you learn how to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, or with it, and I know many pleasant things it will do to you.” –Aldo Leopold

The ancient/modern art/science of tracking requires knowledge of ecology, animal anatomy, behavior, weather, seasons, soils, and self. The tracker uses highly developed attention, perceptual skills, patience, creativity, and imagination to notice and interpret information on the landscape, wherever it may appear!

What does this mean? How did this get here? Who left it? Why?

What does this mean? How did this get here? Who left it? Why?

The tracker’s sacred question is: “What does this mean?”

Wonder what he looking for?

This probably means I left a tuna fish sandwich in my car.

Tracking may be the origin of human intelligence, symbolic reasoning, storytelling, writing and science. Because of its roots in the development of human cognition, tracking skills and a tracker’s mindset are useful in every aspect of life.bird tracks in snow

Over time, tracking helps us learn to read what Thomas Berry calls “The Great Story” of life and to see our place in it more clearly and vividly. We learn to see how our life connects to the lives of all beings. Tracking will change how you see and live in our home, the world.bear visit4

Nuts and Bolts

To register, send me an email at

June 27 and 28th, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm

Riverstone Farm, 708 Thompson Rd SE, Floyd, VA 24091, (650) 814-6426

Cost: $40.00

Maximum 12 participants

Suitable for mature, interested children, approx 12 and up, and adults of all ages and maturity levels

Some one-day spots for either Saturday or Sunday may be available for $25 each, depending on overall registration, but I highly encourage anyone who can to sign up for both sessions.

The Basic Toolbox of Tracking:

This workshop will be a balance of exploration, experience, activity and information. I will ensure that each student begins to develop, and takes home for their continued use and growth, their own “Basic Toolbox of Tracking.” The toolbox has four major components:

  • “Cheetah Mind”: Borrowing a term from the San Bushmen, we learn to develop the attitudes and awareness of the tracker, including imagination, curiosity, mindfulness, playfulness, openness, passion
  • Tracker’s Tools: Gathering and making the “tools of the trade” to facilitate tracking, including a lexicon of fundamental terms
  • Techniques and Strategies: An introduction to the basic “tricks of the trade,” the strategies and techniques a tracker uses to find and interpret sign and tracks
  • Knowledge of species and ecology: Techniques to build your own internal database of animal characteristics, landscape, natural phenomena and their ecological relationships

What to bring:

Water bottle and snacks

Small daypack or fanny pack

Small pocket sized notebook


Small tape measure, 3 to 10 ft range is fine. (I have a few to lend if necessary)

Small flashlight

Camera/camera phone

Small folding knife

Bathing Suit and Towel

Water shoes


About Michael Blackwell:

I have been studying tracking since 1998 and teaching it since 2000. I have studied with some very skilled trackers, including Tom Brown, Jon Young, and Rob Speiden. I designed and taught “The Art and Science of Tracking” for Virginia Tech’s Honors program from 2008-2012, have taught a variety of tracking and nature-based learning skills throughout the region for the past 10 yeas. In 2013, I presented a talk on the power of awareness and curiosity, and on tracking in the “real” world at TEDxVT: Forget What You Know.

You can see more of  my background here and recommendations from former students here.

This just in from a former student, from a recent class:

“Dear Screech Owl! I was just thinking about you today and figured I’d drop you a line to say hello and share a little bit about what I’m up to lately, as it does involve a great deal of what I learned in your tracking course! I’ve been working in Illinois since graduation at a few different jobs, all environmentally oriented — first as a communications intern with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant through EPA, and then at the University of Illinois as an interview research specialist through a project on environmental equity in urban settings… I’m working as a botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, and get to spend three days a week in the woods all over the state, cataloging every plant, bird, and insect we come across. The tracking skills I learned — how to listen to bird language, follow deer paths, and be generally attuned to my surroundings and the lay of the land — have been incredibly useful out here for sure, and while it’s exhausting work, it’s very, very cool stuff. I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to join in on that class…I thought I should mention I use a lot of the lessons I learned from you on the regular to this day! I hope you’re doing well! – Black Willow”

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