Different Ways to Experience Nature: Foraging, Birdwatching, Tracking

Rip­ping down alpine trails on a full-sus­pen­sion beau­ty, scal­ing your newest project, or expe­ri­enc­ing the thrill of back­coun­try ski­ing is what many out­door enthu­si­asts live for and what keeps them com­ing back for more. And, while out­door sports do get par­tic­i­pants in touch with nature, some­times a slow­er, less intense, and per­haps more qui­et method can be just as reward­ing. Whether you’ve sus­tained an injury and sim­ply need some R&R or you’re sim­ply look­ing for a unique way to enjoy the wild places you already know so well, these out­door hob­bies may turn to out­door obses­sions.

foragingFor­ag­ing
The art and prac­tice of for­ag­ing has gone by the way­side since moder­ni­ty blessed (or cursed) us with a con­stant sup­ply of fresh edi­ble plants, nuts, and berries to be found at our fin­ger­tips each time we vis­it the gro­cery store. This ancient way of liv­ing, prac­ticed by humans for over 200,000 years until the shift to agri­cul­tur­al life some 11,000 years ago, is see­ing a resur­gence. How­ev­er, in areas where local restau­rants are ded­i­cat­ed to bring­ing local and sea­son­al delights to their tables. Those you have a knack for for­ag­ing are cash­ing in on every­thing from mush­rooms, to huck­le­ber­ries, and even roots such as gin­seng.

If you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about this prac­tice, the first step is to BE SAFE! Try to con­nect with a for­ager in your area who can act as your guide. Go to your local library and check out books on the var­i­ous edi­ble plants and wildlife in your area. Also, do your research and be aware of for­ag­ing reg­u­la­tions such as where you can and can­not col­lect edi­ble plants.

While this prac­tice may seem “old school” or unnec­es­sary, many find that it brings them clos­er to their nat­ur­al sur­round­ings and helps them to feel a sense of inde­pen­dence and self-reliance in the wilder­ness. Not to men­tion, fresh huck­le­ber­ries are just about the most deli­cious things on the plan­et. Just watch out for the bears if you’re pick­ing from their favorite bush!

birdwatchingBird Watch­ing and Active Lis­ten­ing in Nature
Per­haps you’ve seen some of the pop­u­lar sur­vival shows on tele­vi­sion, most notably “Alone”, where many nat­u­ral­ists and sur­vival­ists will point out or lis­ten intent­ly to the sounds that birds are mak­ing. Much can be learned from our feath­ered friends who will often use spe­cif­ic calls to sig­nal dan­ger or dis­tress when a large ani­mal is approach­ing and can even alert you to changes in the weath­er.

“Bird­ers” are peo­ple who pro­fess a deep pas­sion for bird watch­ing and are very knowl­edge­able about a wide vari­ety of birds, their calls, and habits. Con­nect­ing with a bird­er in your area would be a good way to take up this unique hob­by. Now, per­haps you’re think­ing, I’m not sev­en­ty-years old, so bird­watch­ing isn’t exact­ly on my to-do list. Fair enough. But think of the pos­i­tives: this inter­est­ing hob­by encour­ages you to pay clos­er atten­tion to the wildlife around you, can alert you to the dan­gers in your area, and may even help you find water or food (since birds typ­i­cal­ly con­gre­gate in areas where resources can be found). While it doesn’t have to be your life’s great­est pas­sion, pro­fi­cient knowl­edge of the birds and their behav­iors in your area can enrich your wilder­ness expe­ri­ence.

wildlife trackingWildlife Track­ing
Typ­i­cal­ly, hunters track game in the pre-sea­son so that they can return dur­ing hunt­ing sea­son with pro­fi­cient knowl­edge of the lay of the land, game trails, and a gen­er­al idea of where the ani­mals will bed-down and go for water. Even if you have no desire to hunt, game track­ing is a use­ful skill in the wilder­ness for a vari­ety of rea­sons. Not only can track­ing, or mere­ly being aware of, the game allows you to steer clear of preda­tors like moun­tain lions and bears, it can also pro­vide you with a rich under­stand­ing of how the ani­mals in the area live sym­bi­ot­i­cal­ly. Fol­low­ing game trails, look­ing for ani­mal prints and drop­pings, along with actu­al­ly spot­ting and observ­ing ani­mals (at a very safe dis­tance and with­out your self­ie stick) are some of the most excit­ing and ful­fill­ing moments in the wilder­ness.

As always, doing a lit­tle research before you track is impor­tant. Specif­i­cal­ly, you should learn what ani­mals are to be found in your region, the safe­ty rec­om­men­da­tions for observ­ing them, how to iden­ti­fy their prints and drop­pings, along with the spe­cif­ic dates for their hunt­ing sea­sons. Why do you need to know when they’re being hunt­ed even if you aren’t hunt­ing? Because you’ll need to take the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions to ensure you’re own safe­ty if you are hik­ing and look­ing for ani­mals while hunters are attempt­ing to har­vest them.