Saturday, 27 September 2014

Secret writing - tracks

Sun, wind, extremes of temperature and rain are great levelers.  

Given enough time, after rain, ground surfaces start to resemble a blank piece of paper before cracking into wafer thin sheets and then decaying into fine dusts.  Under influence of the elements, the surface of the ground takes on a regularity of form –a thin unstable upper layer (dust or granular) on top of a more stable layer (rock or loosely packed clay/soil). 

Tracks in a clay pan. The upper layer of dust and grains of sand has been swept away in bottom left by a wallaby's dust bath.

In the harsh light of day, only serious bush-craft can detect these tracks, something way beyond my limited skills.  But, in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is low, or on nights when the full moon sits close to the horizon, the slight depressions are caught by the light.  The tracks emerge, like secret writing. 

On these pages every movement is recorded.  In the right circumstances it can be read as clearly as if it were written in ink. 

After a rain storm the page is wiped clean. 

On a claypan, the upper layer of soil lies disturbed and is slightly depressed into the lower.  In the soft upper layer, a lizard wandering over the softened ground has left a clear set of tracks for all four claws.  The pattern of claw marks are the shape of large commas – the tail of the comma pointing in the direction of movement.  A line between between the path of left and right claw marks, indicates a sharp tail. The depth and size of the tracks suggest a smaller animal: a small blue tongue lizard travelling west. 

The trace continues on for some distance.  In some places it disappears where a wallaby has scraped the surface for a dust bath and where an echidna has raided an ant nest.

The tracks are fresh.  Very little dust or grains have blown onto the traces and here and there the traces overlay the older tracks of the wallabies and birds. 

The regularity, spacing (distance between depressions) and saddle (the offset between the tracks and the midline of travel) of the tracks can tell you how the lizard moved – here at a walk, there it paused, looked up in a crouch (deeper indentations), here, with the saddle becoming smaller and the spacing increasing, the blue tongue moved to a gallop.  Then a confusion of tracks.  Further on, nothing. 

Within the confusion a single print of a fox.

If the light is right you can start to disappear back into the moment when the lizard was wandering here.  But then, from beyond rocks at the edge of the claypan, the sound of laughter.  Suddenly you are back in the present, reassessing what you have seen. Was that a lizard or just a reproduction?  And was that laughter at your expense.

When you look back, the sun is higher, and the secret writing has faded back into the ground.

Grey kangaroo

Peter Quinton
September 2014

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