If you’re getting the winter blues, come out to the Arb . In town, winter is a nuisance - sidewalks are icy, everything is gray and white, and the wind whips your face. Winter feels like an ordeal, something we’d all be better off without. When you go outside to the Arb to see the trees and prairie, it’s clear that the land needs the cold weather- winter isn’t punishment; it’s as beneficial as any season.
In winter, your relationship to animals changes. In spring and summer, you can see rabbits, squirrels, and birds are in plain view, making noise and running around. In winter, you see very few animals, but you have a record of what they’ve been up to. On the way to Burton in the morning, I see deer tracks where the deer have crossed the street and wandered into someone’s front yard, and squirrel and rabbit tracks meandering in the snow it reminds me that there is a world of animal life I don’t know about, that for the animals, this neighborhood is also their habitat. I’m sure they have a completely different map of it than I do. Each place I pass has associations like “my friend lives here”, and “that’s a nice house”, while the animals think in terms of where the good forage is, where it’s safe to burrow.
A quote from the book Tracking and the Art of Seeing, by Paul Rezendes, puts animal tracking into the larger perspective of life: “Our encounter with nature is largely a matter of seeing, and it relates to the quality of attention in our lives…Tracking may be a very good way to learn how to pay attention to our own existence. “He compares an animal’s awareness of its surroundings, based in its body, directly in its senses, to human’s self-perception. Humans are blinded from experiencing the world by our complex self-perceptions, ideas of who we are and what we should be doing and a constant stream of mental chatter and a list of things we have to get done. A lot of mental energy is spent of the desire to control our circumstances, to get the things we want to happen, and get away from the things we don’t want, which make us unable to experience things as they actually are. We are caught up in thoughts about what is happening, judgments that are removed from the experience itself. People like to categorize nature, name tracks and species of plants and animals, and miss the actual sensations of being in the forest. Rezendes concludes that, “if we care about our relationship with nature, or our relationship with other human beings, that caring demands our attention. Caring is attention… The tracker in the forest is in love with his or her surroundings. In nature, we are open to a larger perspective of self. We learn to walk carefully on this planet. We learn to see it.”
--Emma Rapperport ’13, for the Cole Student Naturalists