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Concentric Rings

by Tom Brown, Jr.

One skill needed to make a good scout is the ability to read the concentric rings of the land. This ability enables him to read what is happening on the landscape at great distances, out of the normal range of hearing or sight.

Nothing can move in nature without affecting everything else. The web of life is interconnected, like a spider web. When something gets caught in a spider's web, it vibrates the whole web so the spider knows even if a small insect has been trapped. We are much like spiders.

When Stalking Wolf told me to go ask the mice, it was my first important lesson in the wisdom of the concentric rings. To know when owls were around by what the mice were doing, we had to learn what other things affected the mice and what didn't.

Concentric rings are very much like dropping a stone into the center of a quiet pond. At first there is the initial splash or disturbance, then wave after shock wave reaches out until it fills the entire pond. Ironically, upon reaching the edge, it starts back again to its source. By looking at the pond and the configuration of the rings, a person can tell where the rock was dropped.

Nature has its own concentric rings, but they are much more difficult to read, so difficult that they are an important part of my Advanced Standard and Advanced Tracking classes. A student proficient at reading concentric rings not only has an edge on survival, tracking, and awareness, but has a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.

A good example of concentric rings would be a fox walking along a swamp fringe and the local bird population then beginning to stir, which then catches the attention of some distant jays, who scold the fox. Crows may soon pick up on the commotion, mice will run for cover, chipmunks and squirrels will activate a retreat, and in the distance the deer will pick up on the activity and take an alert stance, which in turn will effect those things close to them. All animals are adept at understanding the disturbances in the landscape which, by listening closely, alert them to danger at greater and greater distances. They can discern the differences when the jays are scolding a fox, a man, or a dog, thus heeding the appropriate danger or disturbance signals.

Concentric rings can also be noted in the tracks of animals by the pressure release systems. I was once following a small raccoon across an upper swamp trail. His trail was normal to a point, then it became a little nervous, continually glancing askance to the left, but not showing fear, only apprehension. I decided to look over to the left of the trail and found a fox den housing several young pups, explaining the raccoon's concern, not fear. Though the raccoon is not on the foxes menu because he is such a fierce fighter, a coon knows better than to come too close to a fox with a litter. If you study tracks closely, you will begin to see what concentric rings have effected your animal's movements, and in turn see how they effect yours.

Learning concentric rings is not as easy as it may first seem because you are not dealing with a quiet pond, but with trembling waters, always in motion. There is a constant din or symphony in a forest that fluctuates with the day, the weather, and so many other factors. So the first thing when learning concentric rings is to establish this base rhythm of the symphony. Once the symphony is established, any disturbance in the flow becomes a concentric ring. Whether the symphony or disturbance becomes more dramatically loud or whether it becomes quieter, it is a concentric ring. Any change at all means something.

A good way to practice is to learn to establish the symphony. Any time a fluctuation occurs, go quietly over to see what has made the disturbance and how far out the disturbances or concentric rings can be detected. Try to stalk so that you do not create a concentric ring that interferes with that which is going on at the moment. The more you practice, and it will be frustrating at first, the more will be the rewards of being able to read what is going on at greater and greater distances. It was once said that a good Apache scout could read the concentric rings of one white man eight miles away.

A good exercise to do with a friend is to go out and sit alone in the woods for awhile. Wait until the forest calms down and the symphony is well established. Then, at a pre-determined time, have your friend enter the forest. Listen, watch, and experience the concentric rings that his travel sends off. Don't try to put these rings in words, but rather let them sift into your subconscious. Some things can never be explained in words or thoughts.

From The Tracker magazine, 1984, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the Tracker Trail website