Friday, March 6, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

People follow many trails in search of fun

MarionFranckW

By
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 [email protected]

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

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

  • .

    News

    ‘Topping out': Sign a building beam at the Shrem Museum

    By Jeffrey Day | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Life after lawn: Fifty greens for shade

    By Katie F. Hetrick | From Page: A1

    Got sun? Indoor herbs can thrive on windowsills

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

     
    How can we know that the products we buy for our homes are safe?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Quick home improvements that raise your resale value

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Spring-clean your kitchen in five easy steps

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    Peripheral neuropathy support offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Workshop eyes creating peace through creative play

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Museum brick sales to end this month

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

    Cabrillo Club plans membership dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6

     
    Dryers: Homes’ energy guzzlers just got greener

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    UCD improving farming, food production with fewer pesticides

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: B6 | Gallery

    PSAs highlight area nonprofits

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B6

     
    St. John’s shows off cuisine at brunch

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    Seniors serious about fitness

    By Savannah Holmes | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Pig out at Pig Day Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Porkers on display at Hattie Weber Museum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Forum

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

     
    Some convicts don’t deserve parole hearings

    By Tom Elias | From Page: B4

    Here’s how to make college cheaper

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    Obama’s world is a dangerous place

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Dirty laundry on the company line

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B9

     
    .

    Sports

    DHS girls track and field team reloads for 2015

    By Dylan Lee | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD women fall at UCR

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Aggie men clinch Big West crown

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Marsh provides radio images of a ‘magical’ Aggie hoops season

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Blue Devil volleyballers cruise in home opener

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Bella Vista slips past DHS softballers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

     
    Rec Report: Looking ahead to spring break

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B5

     
    Wineaux: A local diamond in the rough, revisited

    By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A9

    .

    Arts

    Tables available at Vinyl and Music Fair

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    Steve Kiser’s work on display at Gallery 1855

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel': Second-rate

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A10 | Gallery

     
    Learn from experts at ‘Art of Painting’ conference

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    Tom Brousseau to visit ‘Live in the Loam’ on KDRT

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ auditions set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

    Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela celebrate Mandela’s legacy

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Honey, we shrank the SUV — and Europe loves it

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, March 6, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B10