Before work this morning, I took a lap of the woods. My thoughts often label a walk like that a “constitutional”. That’s how I think of a walk when I don’t plan to linger, but to clear my head for the rest of the day’s work. Often when I go to the woods, I am happy to fill my mind with new thoughts. But a constitutional is when I am looking to empty it.
I don’t think I’ve heard that word much since childhood, when it was already the language of grandpas, scholars, and other persons sporting leather elbow patches on their jackets, and a smart walking cane. These were people who knew the value of a good constitutional. Keep the joints limber, the air fresh, and the mind open.
My thoughts were definitely elsewhere, my mind open and drifting, when I realized the path I was walking on had fresh prints on it. Fresh prints with five toes!
Perhaps I could let one or two thoughts in… People with leather elbow patches also know the wisdom of not missing out on the present.
I always get a little extra excited when I see prints with five toes, front and back. My heart often wishes to see fishers, or other mustelids. But tracking is all about seeing not what you want to see, but what is there. It’s a good frame of mind to hold on to for the rest of the day.
Most of the tracks were very faint. The ground was “noisy” and there wasn’t much new snow fall. But there was enough to follow for long enough to get a clearer view. My gut had been whispering the tracks were not behaving in a weasely way. And my gut and brain agreed with each other when I came across the clearer tracks. Raccoons walk in a funny gait where their hind feet end up swinging up alongside their front feet. They roll their hips while they walk, so the hind foot leaves a mark beside the opposite front foot. (It’s a fun gait to try and imitate, as a human.) When I came across a set of prints like that, my brain tumbled over to the better ID: I was following raccoon tracks.
I usually remember raccoon prints best by thinking of the front foot as leaving a mark like a small human hand, and the hind foot as leaving a mark like a small human foot. Not so different you and I, my procyon friend. With your little human-ish tracks, your nimble hands, and your inquisitive nature. Thanks for joining me this morning; I enjoyed following in your footsteps.