Tracking Predator and Prey

Do you enjoy wandering in the woods, hunting for signs of what your wild neighbors are up to? These days, it is not so much about survival, though in the 1190’s, when Hearken to Avalon takes place, one would need to know how to track wildlife; one’s survival, and that of one’s people, may depend upon it. “Guy caught sight of a small herd of deer coming towards them. He took aim and breathed out slowly as he released the arrow…”

The following article on wildlife tracking appeared in the January 2015 edition of the Ashfield News.

Test your awareness; animal signs tell a tale. Can you listen?
Registered tracks, what a find! Now whose
Are they? How long ago did the creature pass by? Why
Care about aging tracks, prints in mud, birds calling out, chipmunks chattering, scents
Kissing the wind, telling direction?
If you were hungry, you’d know! Hungry for learning like famished for food.
Nuggets: scat, remains, scratch marks, teeth marks – all a feast on the eyes. They are
Gifts bearing a deeper awareness; an intertwining of stories and lives.

14.12.06 Early Winter Walk (6)While there was snow on the ground I was having a grand time tracking and trailing my wild neighbors through the woods and field around my new home. I tracked little five-digit paw prints whose owners were a pair of raccoon who had been waddling about on an above-freezing night. I trailed the heart-shaped hoof prints of deer and large the large symmetrical four-toed prints of coyote.

Now one could mistake coyote for a large domestic dog, it’s true. And the clear prints were melting out as the sun rose higher in the sky. I wondered, did I have any neighbors have a pack of dogs and if they did, did let them wander about, digging up the snow, looking for mouse-y snacks? Unlikely. Still, “the proof is in the pudding” so to speak, so I hunted for a definitive answer – scat!

“It starts with an ‘s’ and ends with a ‘t’. It comes out of you and it comes out of me.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, but don’t call it that; be scientific and call it scat!”

I am admittedly a “scatologist” – a studier of scat – yes, of poop. For when the snow melts or the critters leave the mud flats, one needs other clues of what the wild ones left behind to know who are coming through.
For days I walked in and out of the woods where I had seen canine tracks hoping for the tell-tale sign. Then one day – AHA – I was rewarded for my tenacity. There was a pile of hair-laden scat. Now why anyone would want to eat the hair along with the meat is beyond me, but if you’re wolfing down food to be sure you get your fair share perhaps you just don’t care. The hairs were course and gray. If I had decided to don gloves and poke around a bit more I am sure I would have proven that they were the hollow hairs of white-tailed deer. I considered the unfolding drama in my mind. The deer forewarned to the coyotes’ presence with their rallying song and subsequent silence. Ears pricked against the darkness; large soulful eyes widening in alertness. Nostrils taking in scents. Were the coyote upwind or down? Spooked, the deer high-tailed it through the bracken; one was overtaken. Prey consumed by predator. One dies so that others may survive.

Recently, I felt the distinct sensation of my predator nature.” It was Christmas Eve and I had travelled down to New Jersey to be with my mother and sister. It was a LONG drive. I was tired and hungry. Upon entering, I was instructed not to sit down and relax, but to head to the kitchen. My mom had gotten lobster for the three of us. I love lobster! As tired as I was, I kept moving to make dinner happen. I filled the large heavy pot with water, set it to boil, and took the lobsters out of the fridge where they sat, exposed to air, and unsure what to make of their current predicament.

I was the one to do the deed of sticking these ocean-dwelling crustaceans head first into the pot of boiling water. I had been doing it since I was a kid so it wasn’t an activity I minded. We’ve always had this little ritual. You have to look your live food right in the eye and state to him or her, “Although you give your life up unwillingly, I thank you just the same.” Then into the pot the lobster goes for minutes before being barbarically consumed with crunching and ripping and tearing of exoskeleton and cooked flesh with hands and teeth.

If you have the omnivores’ dilemma, then you know that primal taste of meat on the tongue outweighs any studies or current size, shape or sharpness of your teeth. You are going to eat meat, sharp canine teeth or not. Perhaps not chasing it down and tackling it like the coyote, but you are going to meet your meat in some fashion and consume it. Do you experience a moment of gratitude as you savor the taste and thank all hands seen and unseen who made your meal possible?

I have no idea if coyotes say a prayer of thanksgiving for having actually met with success in catching dinner. It’s not always the case out there in wild. Sometimes you go hungry and life becomes a test of strength and endurance, and sometimes just of luck. Did you zig when you should have zagged. Did you not catch a scent on the wind? Were you being fully aware of your surroundings?

As we welcome in the New Year, still filled with cold and snow, let’s take a moment and be thankful for all that we have survived to get this far. And to all the Wild Ones out there, I say – here is to the prey who gave up their lives, however willingly or not, so that others could fill their bellies. And here is to the predators who did not make it so that the prey could experience life another day.

Into the Ouside logo


“Into the Outside” is a bi-monthly feature article by Ashfield resident and writer, Arianna Alexsandra Collins, which focuses on explorations of forest and field in Ashfield, MA. Arianna has a background in natural science and natural history.


First Snow Storm 11.26 (6)My Love, the Winter

Interested in learning more about your wild neighbors in winter? Hearken to Avalon author, Arianna Alexsandra Collins will be facilitating, “My Love, the Winter” on Saturday, February 14 from 1:00-2:30pm in Ashfield, MA.
How do animals stay warm in the winter? LOVE! That’s right even in the freezing cold, “love is in the air”. Participate in an engaging program and learn about courtship behaviors of our furred and feathered neighbors. $15. Personal message Arianna through the Hearken to Avalon Facebook page to register. Proceeds benefit the publication of Hearken to Avalon.

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