Updated: March 26, 2018
My Tracking Stories
occasional story about my tracking adventures.
Taking the Cat
for a Walk
December 27, 1998
Disturbance, overturned leaves, a broken twig, bruised leaf. The signs led me on down the trail. Two trespassers. Both wearing rain boots with a herringbone pattern on the sole. One a child Ė the prints only six inches long. The other print narrow and small Ė possibly a woman. A lug-soled heel Ė a third trespasser.
I found their prints on Saturday, the day after Christmas, as I walked up the dirt road above my house. They had come down the road and left numerous signs Ė tracks, stomped bushes, and the tops of pampas grass plants they had pulled off and torn apart, littering the road with plant parts as they went. They changed direction at the bottom of the hill and went over to the left. There is a hidden pond there behind a berm of dirt. Theyíve been here before. You canít see any sign of the pond from the road. They found cattails here, the brown seed stalks having been disturbed, several gone. I found a pampas grass seed head lodged in the branches of a bush, probably thrown from the road or placed there. The angle at which it rested was almost parallel to the road, but it could have veered in flight. On the ground were two broken pieces from the stalk.
Back on the road, I found fluffy cattail seeds on the gravel in the middle. Someone had torn pieces from the seed head they had taken from the pond. The tracks were occasional, having been almost obliterated by the passage of three vehicles since the people had passed. In the gravel center of the road, the person with lugs had walked about 20 yards, leaving good prints. On down the road I followed the pieces of pampas grass stalk and cattail seed. Tracks and partial tracks along the roadside let me know I was still following them. It was getting dark when I came to the little road that veers right toward the upper part of the property. I took several steps beyond it and the tracks disappeared from the main road. I went back in the fading light to check the little dirt side road. There, in the grass, were a couple of shine spots. They had gone in there. I had no more daylight and had to leave this mystery for another day. I checked where the little road came out, but didnít find their tracks there. Maybe they spent the night camped out there.
On Sunday, I started up from another direction. My cat followed me on my walk, playing the fierce hunter in the woods as I tracked my quarry. I went up to the plateau area where the road they had taken leads. Walking the road from this side, I checked for sign. I found nothing until just past an old logging road that veers left from an intersection with the road I was on. There, I found part of a herringbone sole print. I back-tracked them, past bushes that had bent over the road and broken with the weight of snow in our rare snowstorm last week. Plants here are not adapted to that sort of weather and, everywhere I looked, bushes were thus damaged. The trespassers had made their way under and through the tangle of bent bushes. At one place, they were forced to push their way through the end of a bush because the growth on both sides of the road was dense and they couldnít go under. The branches were interlaced in the direction they had traveled through. They came in this way, but they did not go out this way. The branches would have been interlaced in the opposite direction if they had gone back through. I trailed them all the way back to the main road where I had picked up their trail yesterday. Locating the shine tracks in the grass, I found where they had turned off the main road. There was no hesitation, no stopping to decide on a route. They knew where they were going, knew where this little road led. Theyíve been here before.
With that bit of information, I turned around and went back the way I had come. I went all the way back to the intersection of the two logging roads. Here, I cut for sign to determine which fork they took. I had found no tracks going the opposite direction yet, so either they were still here, or they had exited by a different route. At the intersection, I determined that they went right. Directly right. There had been no hesitation, reinforcing my belief that they knew where they were going. This road was more overgrown, but the grass had plenty of moisture in it and had all popped right back up. Even the stuff I stepped on barely showed any damage. I followed scuff marks and a couple of impressed pebbles. Then, I came to a place where two bushes had fallen into the trail, making a sort of arch. Someone had broken them down, stepping on them in three places to go over. Some branches looked like they had been cut off at the top, someone had taken a couple handfuls of the leaves and white flowers. Whoever they were, they liked to pull the seeds heads and tips off plants. Probably the maker of the small tracks. Children like to tear branches off plants. Most likely a boy. (Little girls donít do that, do they?)
I came into a clearing and suddenly the road disappeared in a large flat area, open under the trees. Not much understory vegetation here. There, in a bare patch of dirt, I found a classic giveaway. A nice heel print from the lug sole. Following the faint smudges and disturbances of forest litter, I made my way to the right. Looking up, I saw, about 200 feet away, a shape that didnít look right. Nothing that stood out from the natural materials, just an unnatural shape, something out of place. The tracks led that way, so I followed. As I got closer, I could see that the shape I had seen was a couple of branches, arranged in a man-made form. The tracks led right up to it. It turned out to be a small cross, made from two sticks and a piece of red and black nylon rope with duct tape on the end to prevent unraveling. Stuck in the ropeís coils was a seed head from one of the cattail plants back at the pond, some of the seeds missing in a chunk from the side. Perhaps this was the out-of-place thing I had picked up on from a distance. Cattails donít grow this far away from water. On the ground in front of the little cross were a pampas grass seed head, the missing branch tops from the bush across the road, and a fir branch. In an older bundle, wrapped with string with a silver plastic bead tied on, were some plant stems that may have, at one time, held flowers. The stems were soggy and muddy, almost beginning to rot away. The cross itself was not new. The rope was faded and the bark peeling from the two branches that it was made of. The base had some splattered mud from past rain storms. They had been here before. They knew where this cross was, brought the various items they had picked up along the way, and left them with other items deposited here on previous visits.
To my right was a fallen tree, its base having left a crater when it fell. A good landmark. Whose grave was this? Three people had visited this little cross on the day after Christmas, bringing their own version of the traditional flowers - gifts from the natural world they found around them. For who? A beloved family pet perhaps? There are no people buried here, that I know of. It is one of those mysteries that will remain unsolved.
I followed their tracks farther into the forest behind the little cross. I wanted to see what the rest of the story was before I ran out of daylight. They didnít go much farther before they turned around and headed out. Perhaps they had run out of daylight, as I was now. They took a different route. The smaller tracks were beginning to show signs of tiredness. The child was dragging his feet, leaving longer scuff marks. They were heading back to the main road. Perhaps they wanted to avoid going under and over and around all the fallen bushes. They took an easy route, following an old trail. I ran out of daylight before I had followed them all the way to the road, but Iím sure thatís where they went. Maybe someday theyíll come back and Iíll find out who is buried there. Until then, I have a mystery to ponder and a story to tell.
-Kim A. Cabrera
December 27, 1998
Another true tracking story. Tracking criminals - how I tracked the burglars who burglarized me. Includes a map of the trail.
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