If you want to be a bigfooter, your objective from Day One in the field is to become identified by the Forest Giant scouts as a non-threatening presence. You want to appear markedly different from ordinary hikers so you can warrant their tolerance and attract closer investigation. Make routine hikes in the early morning and the early evening. Design your daily hikes to serve three purposes....
Creating a Provocative Routine
Your objective from Day One in the field is to become identified by the Forest Giant scouts as a non-threatening presence. You want to appear markedly different from ordinary hikers so you can warrant their tolerance and attract closer investigation. Make routine hikes in the early morning and the early evening. Design your daily hikes to serve three purposes. 1) Break the boredom with healthful exercise while awaiting nightfall, 2) make you completely familiar with your surroundings, and 3) make yourself and your routine familiar to the Forest Giants.
I like to make ever widening concentric circles around my campsites to discover the most logical direction they might choose for a visit. I am usually wrong, but it keeps me thinking. Behave normally. Do not try to sneak up on the Forest Giants. Walk casually enough to allow your own observations but don't bother trying to sneak around because your actions may remind them of hunters and put them on guard. If your routine seems predictable and safe, they may eventually follow you back to your camp.
Sleep and rest as much as you can during the day because the Forest Giant People are certainly settled in somewhere safe and private for their rest period. Imitate their time schedule so you can move when they move.
Begin setting the stage in your mindset by assuming that you are never alone. Always presume that you are under the scrutiny of those you do not see. Watch for brief flickers of movement out of the corners of your eyes — the Forest Giants seldom move face-on. Never stare too long at any single spot. If you suspect a presence, scan your gaze past that area as if looking at something else. And never point your finger. Grant them the comfort factor of believing they have you fooled.
This is a tough order to follow: do not attempt to trail or track them even if you see them moving away from you. Be patient! Let them come to you in their own time. They must always believe they are in control. At night, keep your eyes adjusted to the darkest areas around you and avoid the hypnotic effects of firelight.
You must also invent your unique way to announce your presence and location as you move along — a distinctive set of non-aggressive hoots, yodels, calls, barks, whines, or cries can work wonders. Personally, I crap my hands, whistle, or simply call out my name — I am afraid to sing; they might bean me with a, rock!
Words in and of themselves do not matter although those with the softer vowels and consonants may convey a gentler intent; instead, your demeanor speaks more plainly. If there are two or more of you, don't hesitate to converse in normal tones from time to time.
Hint: Choose a single article of clothing such as a distinctive and colorful hat, vest, or fanny pack that you will wear at all times, in or out of camp, to make yourself identifiable at a glance. It need not be a large or cumbersome item; rest assured that the eyesight of a Forest Giant is sharp. Or fasten a single bear bell to your ankle or your walking stick so it jingles when set down.
During these routine hikes, pay strict attention to everything around you. Carefully observe the signs that reveal the existence and the routines of resident wildlife. Be sure to make detailed notes of every event in a written journal: where and when you see, hear, sense, or smell anything unusual or usual. Naturally, should you find fresh scat, tracks, or hair of any animal, be sure they are included. Soon you will notice a predictable pattern emerging that will establish common events in your study area. Begin monitoring your site for obvious changes. Expect lulls in unusual activity from time to time. Don't let it discourage you. The Forest Giants are semi-nomadic, but they appear to revisit favored areas over the course of a season. Weather and circumstance rather than a clock appear to influence these movements. Have patience, and be as persistent as a bill collector.
Don't overlook anything that is uncommon in the natural scheme of things, such as a distinct change in the routines or attitudes of deer or squirrels. If they suddenly get cranky or overly spooked, you should wonder why.
Keep your journal handy to note or sketch anything that may have been fashioned by a five-fingered hand with an opposable thumb. Look for radically twisted or intricately woven branches, twigs, vines, plant stalks, stacks of sticks, stones, or even boulders placed in geometric patterns. In particular, note any branch or stick that could not have fallen or been blown in even by high winds.' Learn to "read bark" so you can distinguish oak from maple or elm, etc. `8 For example, if dozens of maple and oak branches are neatly stacked around the base of an elm tree, yet the nearest oak or maple is 50 yards away, pay attention! If you find a large limb above a path or trail, placed parallel to the ground, carefully examine your initial intuitive impression. Was your reaction "barring" you from passing under it or did it suggest a change in direction? Think and also feel! If you have a GPS, record these exact positions. If not, make an entry on your Location Field Map after marking the position at the site with a dated and numbered strip of surveyor's tape. Enter that data into your journal.
At home, meticulously transcribe this information onto the plastic overlay of your Master Map, being sure to include times and dates. Use your word processor to track the times and dates of common versus uncommon events.
This lesson is clear: never ignore anything out of laziness. Develop an inquisitive mind and maintain a persistent desire to know what is and what is not normal to your study area. Become efficient in identifying its resident animal and bird sounds, both by day and by night. Only if you truly know your environment can you recognize what is normal and what is out of place.
Ponder this: What might appear interesting at a distance to a Forest Giant while also keeping you personally entertained? Your first thought may be nature photography. Think again. That black-and-metal camera always strung around your neck, the one with the long zoom lens, the same one you keep raising to your face, could look too much like a form of firearm to a super-shy Forest Giant. I'll bet most of them have observed the same basic motion among hunters as they lift a weapon to their face before firing. You and I know the difference because we know cameras contain only film or a data card, and we know they can't hurt anyone. But how could a Forest Giant possibly know that? If you must take pictures, seriously consider obtaining one of the smallest digital cameras.
How about honing your sketching or painting skills? Talk about something that may intrigue a Giant — there you sit making none of those obnoxious noises that always seem to blast out from organized campgrounds. Instead, you habitually leave the beaten path to sit quietly amid open meadows with an easel, a palette, and lots of bright paints, pencils, or charcoal sticks. In nice weather, leave your work out overnight. Let the Forest Giants come in safely to view those bright colors and interesting patterns. No matter how crudely you do it, draw or paint yourself standing with open hands before a family of smiling Giants. It doesn't matter what you paint. It doesn't matter how bad it looks, the point is you're doing something outrageously different from usual campers. That's exactly what you want to do.
Here's another great avocation that can serve to attract all manner of wild creatures. Learn to play a recorder or a flute. How about a harmonica? A guitar? A banjo? Or a sweet mandolin? A dulcimer? These are easy instruments to backpack, and you can make all the dumb mistakes you want without anyone plugging their ears. Don't make the mistake of one rank amateur who dragged a full set of rock band drums into the nice, calm forest, where he proceeded to bip, bap, smack, crack, and barn for hours on end — to no avail, of course.
Consider collecting arrowheads or perhaps plants, herbs, flowers, seeds, and leaves that you can press and catalog in camp for your edification and future enjoyment. If you are in the Sierras, pan for gold. Or how about taking a good birding book and beginning your life list? Be aware there are compact disks available to allow you to become familiar with birdcalls in your area. This activity can serve a dual purpose. I am certain that Forest Giants routinely imitate various bird and animal calls to communicate between themselves — the Native Americans did it for centuries. Become efficient at identifying the resident species' various morning, territorial, and mating calls from their night noises so that you can tell when something is out of place. Consider your reaction if you recognized a call from a species that doesn't exist in your study area. Impossible? Not really.
How about making slides for a microscope? You might consider taking one with you. And you can do all that in your camp with various items — animal hair, plants, scat, insects. Think about it from their point of view. Don't you think those Giants will wonder what in the world you're doing when you pick up natural things, carry them back to camp and then examine them so carefully? They won't know what a microscope is, but they'll know that you spend a lot of quiet time. Wouldn't that intrigue them?
One last suggestion before I leave you to your own imagination. What do you know about the advantages of practicing yoga for your physical, mental, and emotional health? It may be time for you to learn to practice yoga in the woods all by yourself.
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