Michael's Dispatches

Norway Training Day 4

06 September 2012


This morning brought frost to the windshield for the first time this week.  Day by day, winter is creeping in and we can feel it.    Yesterday I was unable to publish because we trained late into the night, and started again early today.  And so please excuse the unedited dispatches, written quickly with some fatigue.  (And I have homework to do.)

In tracking, the word “sign” means any change in the natural state of the environment due to man, beast or machine.  Spoor is a Dutch word that is used in our training course to mean animal sign.  And so, when you see the word spoor, it might be moose tracks, or waste, or basically anything done by an animal or insect.  There is a lot of moose spoor out there, and we are seeing spoor from deer and other creatures.

The most difficult thing to judge in tracking is the age of sign.  Neil Armstrong’s boot prints on the moon probably are still there from 1969 because there are no monsoons or snowstorms on the moon.  Age of sign can be exceptionally difficult to judge because in some places, or with just a change of weather, sign can appear to be greatly aged, or even just erased, in minutes.    Every environment is different.  At the tracking school in Borneo, near the equator, if we dropped food on the ground it would be gone quickly.  Certainly after one night it would vanish.  If you drop paper in Borneo, after one day, it might look like it has been there for a month, when in reality it got hit with one monsoon rain, and got pounded by equatorial sun for one day.

Footprints are the same.  A footprint in a cave might still be there months or even years later.  But outside in Thailand, the same print might last five minutes, or it might last five days, depending on many factors such as wind, rain, and spoor.  In fact, if you make a path through mud that is partially in the sun and partially shaded, you might notice (depending on many factors) that the mud prints in the sun might look old after just hours, while the ones in the shade, created only seconds later, can still look brand new. 

We have just finished day four, and what can be said about here and now is that the items age very slowly.  For instance, on the first night a piece of cheese lay undisturbed, and the next day showed only some aging.  The cheese survived the second night, and last night it disappeared.  Other items are aging very slowly.  The partially eaten banana from day 1 looks like it has been in the Florida weather for about (my guess) maybe a few hours.  But it has been out here for three days and looks edible if a little brown.  If that were in Borneo, a monkey or some other creature would have made off with it long ago. 

And so, making and studying the aging stand is an essential aspect of “tuning in” to your target environment.

The Norwegian Soldiers are taking the training seriously, and they are a smart bunch so the training is going fast.  Everybody in the course is a combat veteran, and so nobody needs to be sold on the value.  The Norwegian and U.S. students are enthusiastic, as are the veteran British instructors.  This sort of combat course is best taught by professional Soldiers, and ideally by people with combat experience.  (That box is checked.)  A civilian tracker without combat and military experience would be hard pressed to adapt tracking and GSA (Ground Sign Awareness) to military needs.

One of the Norwegian vets is colorblind, and at first glance you might think this would be a disadvantage in tracking.  But the jury remains out because he seems to be one of the best (possibly the best out of nine) at spotting minor sign, and spotting it quickly.  After Day 4, it can be said with certainty that being color blind is definitely not a handicap for him with tracking and GSA, and I am starting to think it might be an advantage.

Regarding Norway, the town of Rena is a sleepy and pretty place in central Norway.  Not a lot of people.  There is a pizza joint.  The forests are loaded with pine trees and what appears to be clean water from the rivers and streams.  There are many types of mushrooms, and lichens that are very pretty.  Almost like a movie set.  You can drink water from the tap here and it tastes good.  (Tastes better than bottled water.)  If you have a look for Rena on Google Earth, you will see much wild country.  Looks like a great place for trekking.

That’s it for today’s quick update.  Please excuse the lack of editing.  There is little time and there is homework to do.

P.S. The company running this training: http://www.pencari.co/p/h/Home//21/

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