The Fifth World

Tracking

Tracking means following the trail of tracks and other signs that an animal leaves behind by moving through the landscape. Often such a trail leaves significant gaps. A tracker can only bridge these gaps and find the next sign if she can put herself in the animal’s mind, understand their motivations, and see the world as they see it. This allows her to guess which way an animal would go (for example, heading uphill to find food or downhill to find water). If she can put herself in the animal’s place, she can guess correctly, and find the next sign. If not, she will frequently go the wrong way and lose the trail.

The signs that animals leave can tell an experienced tracker a great deal about them. The size of their tracks can give her a sense of the animal’s size. The distance between tracks can tell her how fast they moved. Subtle hints can even tell you about their state of health and even their frame of mind. An animal that walks slowly and avoids open areas may feel nervous or cautious. An animal that leaves deeper tracks with their right hind leg may have some sort of pain in that leg.

A proficient tracker in the Fifth World uses these clues to enter the animal’s frame of mind, allowing her to follow gaps in the trail. At the moment when the tracker finds her quarry, she has reached the height of this exercise in empathy, creating an emotionally fraught moment when the tracker feels most connected to the animal, and uses that connection to kill them. Most trackers do not consider this an act of violence, and would consider the use of violence at such a moment completely unforgivable. Nonetheless, the inescapable fact remains that trackers kill animals at the very moment that they have come closest to them, both physically and emotionally. This creates a tension that every community must find a way to deal with.