Friday, November 28, 2014

People follow many trails in search of fun


April 1, 2011 |

I was about a third of the way through a morning of learning to identify animals from their tracks when the group leader told us something unexpected about the place we were exploring.

“People like us, we’re the first to arrive,” he said. “Then the off-roaders. Then the paintball crowd.”

The location was outside Nevada City where my husband and I had come to spend the weekend with friends. These good people know me well enough to propose entertainment they wouldn’t choose for themselves, in this case, a tracking class.

I jumped at the chance. Ever since my husband and I bought property in the foothills, I’ve been curious about the animals who share our land.

We got up early for the class and drove through a confusing set of back-country roads following directions that had arrived by email. I knew we would end up in a woodsy area and I expected it to be beautiful.

I hoped the hiking wouldn’t exhaust me: It was a three-hour class.

At 9:30 a.m. we found our destination, parked the car and joined the tracking group who were standing together at the edge of a vast field of mud. All around us the ground was brown, a lake-sized ring of earth, compacted in some places, squishy in others and crisscrossed by car and truck tracks.

Our hosts explained that it was the site of a former airport. The mud expanse was ringed by large pine trees and I figured we’d head into the woods soon.

We began by examining the mud. The group consisted of about 15 people, the four of us, attracted by a newspaper announcement, and the regulars, a group of serious and semi-serious trackers. By “serious” I mean that some of them work for search and rescue. By semi-serious I mean that even the amateurs carried animal identification charts, measuring devices and books.

As soon as we started looking at the mud, we saw tracks. The most obvious and plentiful were dog tracks, but the experienced trackers identified fox, skunk — even a frog and a tiny millipede. They could tell which way the deer had been running and how fast. They took out rulers and calipers and confirmed their guesses by measuring the size of the tracks and the space between footfalls.

It soon became obvious that this was not a skill I could pick up quickly. Tracks of the same size looked all the same to me. Even when I began to see differences (longer toenails, wider central pad, deeper impression), I realized that the animals’ movements disguise their tracks. If the fox or skunk is running, turning or pausing, the tracks will look different.

Just as I was discovering the difference movement makes, I heard unexpected movement: the sound of a unmuffled car accelerating. A man had just driven his jacked-up Ford pickup onto the mud field and gunned the engine. Then he veered off into a woodsy area at high speed and starting turning in circles.

For five minutes, we heard a rumble but we couldn’t see him. Then the truck reappeared on the edge of the mud field, limping and drenched in mud. The driver had rolled it. A tire was flat, the windshield shattered, the cab crushed.

The driver was OK because he had a roll bar. I saw him stand and talk on his cell phone. Minutes later, a buddy showed up and they hauled the truck away.

We weren’t paying much attention to them, having moved to the far side of the mud, where someone had found a perfectly symmetrical one-inch circle. It came to a peak like a volcano and was surrounded by tiny mud bubbles. This wasn’t an animal track, but what was it? We discussed it at length. A burrowing insect?

Finally, the group leader said, “Maybe it’s a paintball.” He scratched at the mud, applied a little pressure and pulled something out. Bingo.

I’d never seen a paintball, and I know nothing about the game except what I learned later from Wikipedia. I gather that players, wearing protective masks, shoot at each other with paint-filled pellets — basically, war simulation for fun. Playing on a field like this would be called “outlaw ball” because no safety regulations are in place.

Around this time I realized that we weren’t going into the woods at all. Tracks are clear on mud, not on the leaves and pine needles you find in the forest. Our destination was here, as it was for the off-roaders and the paintballers. Our destiny was to look for nature in the same place where people shot, caroused and destroyed.

We spent another hour padding around on the mud learning from the experts and trying to read cues from the animals who, like off-roaders, paintballers and trackers, leave traces of their presence, although the animals are more subtle.

Although track identification is way too complex for me to learn in a morning, I did learn about people.

“Takes all kinds” doesn’t begin to grasp the diorama that emerged at the mud field. I wonder how many similar places I’ve never seen.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at



  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Shop-local focus highlights Small Business Saturday

    By Bob Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Looking for the gift of life

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    The artistic process of a neighborhood legend

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Davis MRAP didn’t go far: Woodland

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    Holiday shopping in full gear

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Tell us your Putah Creek stories

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Gorilla death prompts S.F. Zoo changes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Bob Dunning: MRAP your arms around this

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Ceremony Tuesday celebrates MU bus terminal

    By Dave Jones | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Explorit: Water expert will speak Dec. 15

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A3

    Free bike clinic, ride set Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Locals come through for families in need

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Travel the world at Logos Books

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Dormant-season pruning tips offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Junior high students set walkathon fundraiser

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Horse owners needed for online survey

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Sierra Club calendars on sale Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Enterprise holiday decorating contest is back

    By Kimberly Yarris | From Page: A4

    Flyway Nights talk focuses on sea otters of Elkhorn Slough

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Chamber of Commerce lays out 5-year plan

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    Holiday gifts galore available at crafts fair

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Shakespeare folio discovered in France

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Students come together for sustainability

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Workshop will answer financial aid questions

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Wolks share their unique perspective on Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Christmas Bird Count workshop planned Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Watch, then make, a holiday floral decoration

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9



    Behavior straining friendship

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    It all started at the bookstore

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    What can we do to help?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    What if we really need it?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Tom Elias: Utilities look to soak small users

    By Tom Elias | From Page: A6

    Cheers and Jeers: Thankfully, no jeers

    By Our View | From Page: A6

    Many thanks for a great benefit

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6



    Seahawks shut down San Francisco

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Aggies out-Fox Utah State after dramatic Les shot to forces overtime

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Defense, depth lead Aggie women to home win

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Youth roundup: 10 titles for the Diamonds Level 3 gymnastics squad

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B4 | Gallery





    Mumbo Gumbo plays for post-Thanksgiving dance party

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    ‘Horrible Bosses 2′: Fire ‘em all!

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery



    Sonata evolves into more sophisticated car

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: C1 | Gallery



    John Walter Neves Jr.

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



    Comics: Friday, November 28, 2014 (set 2)

    By Creator | From Page: B3

    Comics: Friday, November 28, 2014 (set 1)

    By Creator | From Page: A10