…or when it rises in the morning, that’s the time to be looking down – at the ground. If you were brought up in the country or the bush, it’s a fair bet that some time in your life, you’ve had occasion to come across the tracks of critters that passed you by in the night. If you’ve been at all curious – you might’ve looked down and around yourself long enough to identify one or two of the offending little beasties – as it scuttles off like a mad thing – clean out of your sight. If you’re at all like me – you’ve stopped what your doing to find out who visits and why. It’s important to find out about these things going around you – they tell a tale that’s so original in it’s content – you’ll never see the same ‘yarn’ twice!
Now don’t get all skeptical and funky on me here. I’m not trying to tell you that at a mere glance at some critter tracks, I can tell how much change that little lizard was carrying in his left, hip pocket. Nor that he walked with a limp due to an unfortunate push-bike incident – on the 25th November 2006 at 1435 and 3 seconds – with little Billy Bloggs down the road. I certainly can’t tell you that he was ‘walking’ with intent – probably on account of his being extremely cranky thanks to losing a large bet down at the TAB, on a slow horse call Leaping Lizard. Impossible!!! I’m just not that skilled at reading tracks and – NO horse with a name like Leaping Lizard could ever be accused of losing a race!
However, every critters track and ‘sign’ – tells a story. At a glance I can tell you who visited. I can tell you in most cases whether this might have been in the early onset of an evening or whether it was during the first rays of light. I can tell you if there might have been a reason for it stopping in a particular spot, or if it was just being nosy – depending on the particular ‘sign’ that critter may have left for me. I can tell you if it’s a native critter, or if it’s a feral one. I can tell you if it was alone – or traveling in company. Track and ‘signs’ will do that for you – all you have to do is look, and have an interest in the critters that surround you.
Now I’ve gone and done it right? I mentioned ‘signs’. Is it just me, or have you gone and got those old “Wile E Coyote” skits running around in your head now too? ‘Sign’ in this instant is the type of ‘animal sign’ left in it’s wake after the critter has departed. This might be as simple as recognising it’s ‘toiletry habits’ and by-product left apparently haphazardly about the place. Believe me – anyone who’s ever been unfortunate enough to step into a fresh ‘cow patty’ will only ever do it once – but not all animal sign is quite as obvious as that one. Scratchings on a particular part of a tree, holes scratched under specifiic logs, sloughed skin caught in brittle branches, all of it a clear ‘sign’ for those who want to see. That’s not to say you need to practice the old “Cheech and Chong” skit – picking up every little critter ‘surprise’ in your path and ‘testing’ it appropriately. Just that if you’re aware of these things – you’ll know what to look for, and they’ll tell you a myriad of things.
Sometimes I wish it was this easy in my dealings with people. For all the young people I’ve ever worked with, I wish I could have gotten up in the early morning and figured out if they were in the vicinity – simply by having a quick walk around my house – with a nice big mug of strong tea in my hand. It would have made my life SOOooo much simpler! If I could go out and see a McDonald’s Bacon and Egg Burger (TM) wrapper screwed up on the ground next to a set of barefoot scuff marks, and these appear to be headings towards the beach – I might make an educated guess that the young person in question has eaten and, thanks to the lazy drag marks of a leg rope scraping lightly alongside one of their footprints, it might become clear they’re simply off for a morning surf. Now wouldn’t THAT be easier? Try asking one of your teenagers what they’re up to sometime. I’m telling you – my way will cost you a lot less effort!
If you ever have the chance to visit and camp in the Cape Peron Peninsula in Shark Bay Western Australia, you’ll have the opportunity to see the tracks and signs of the passing of some remarkable critters. The red sand of this bit of land really lends itself to the many Australian cliches out there, where red dirt crashes into the white sand of the beach, and is in stark contrast of the oceany green of the sea. Trap this under a early morning sky and you’ve got yourself a fine landscape, ripe for a tale telling. Critters of all sorts carry out their business under the cover of night, out of the heat and the watchful eye of predators – waiting for a moment of opportunity. The only sign of their night-time passings, is in the sand.
Many years ago I had the pleasure of working with a group of tourists who volunteered to help with a re-vegetation program, on one the many fragile sandy slopes of Shark Bay. Each morning I’d wake them with the kettle whistling, and encourage them to drag their bodies outside to enjoy the start of the day. Soon enough people started to notice the ‘scratch marks’ in the dirt around their feet, and one or two of them became curious. Three American’s, one Italian, one German, two from the UK, three from Sweden, and two – *coff coff* – from Sydney. All – after about three days on the job – completely buggered, but curious. Curious was a good place to start and we got to yarning some. They didn’t believe me when I told them who the tracks belonged to – so we decided to show them.
That night my mate and I ducked out to see if what we could do was trip across several examples of the wandering critters, and bring them back to show the guests we were hosting. One hopping mouse, a knob tailed gecko, a couple of spiny-tailed geckos, a small python, a large wolf spider and medium sized goanna graced their presence that night. We ended up giving this mob an impromptu ‘Aussie critters’ talk – showing these guys what sort of tracks they left in the sand by using a tray full of red dirt – and explaining what they were up too at that time of the night. Things moving around us now – we told them – do so for very specific reasons. We told tales and spun yarns, trying to describe the critters out there and how they lived such extraordinary lives.
It was an instant hit: every morning thereafter, these guys were up and moving well before us – walking around the homestead – trying to catch some of the local wildlife in the act so to speak, each having their own little adventures. Successfully too – tripping over all those once insignificant little things, that they wouldn’t have normally bothered to seek out. They now knew what to look for and the reasoning associated with these critters, moving about in the cooler parts of the day. They were a completely different group of people when they left, they wanted to stay. They’d work like demons all day and stay up at night, talking about the groovy things they discovered during the day. Talk about a conversion.
And all it took – was some seemingly benign scritch scratchings, on the ground. A series of what appeared to be useless marks in the sand, with no story to tell at all. Here one day, covered or gone the next. A few tracks in the sand captured their imagination in a way I’ve never seen before or since, and opened their minds to an adventure they may have otherwise missed.
The lucky buggers!
Belongum – Out!