Humans ‘were born to track’

2008-08-28 00:00

Dr Ian McCallum, author of Ecological Intelligence, is a rich combination of talents and qualifications, ranging from poet to Springbok rugby player, and from medical doctor to field guide.

In his work as the latter, he has observed parallels with his work as a practising psychologist.

In an article he recently authored for Mantis magazine (November 2007), he wrote specifically of parallels between tracking and insight analysis and observed, “We are born to track. We keep track of family and friends, of the weather, of time, days, hours, birthdays, human scandals, of seasons and situations. We track the progress of plans, investments as well as the contact, territorial and alarm calls of colleagues and competitors.

“Ever alert to opportunities, to interceptions and to being intercepted, we cover our tracks, we double track and sometimes we lose track. We track even if we are unaware of it. For example, in any one-on-one exchange with another, we observe, analyse and interpret facial signals without knowing that we are doing so.”

Over the past decade, McCallum has spent much time as a trail guide in the wild areas of southern and central Africa. On September 6, interested people will have a chance to follow trails with him in our own Bizley Nature Reserve and in the Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy.

Given humankind’s abysmal inability to read the warning signs of their destroyed environment, it is encouraging that such a dedicated student of our ecological intelligence still has hope that our ability to track our current situation effectively can save us from looming disaster.

He says further in the same article: “Effective tracking is dependent on one’s ability to look and to listen — outwardly and inwardly. It is about paying thorough attention to what the world brings to you through your sense of smell, touch, taste and sight and of how these senses are affected and interpreted by our emotion-charged inner senses of care, nurturance, curiosity, rage, fear, panic and play. It is about relatedness and relationship.”

Just what does “ecological intelligence” mean for us? And what does it mean to become ecologically literate? McCallum answers in the tracking metaphor as follows: “To become what every tracker aspires to be — a master tracker — is to become ecologically literate. It is hard work. It is a commitment to a lifelong process.”

If you want to pursue this concept further, or if you just want to be stimulated by a great South African thinker, then be sure to hear McCallum at one of several functions on September 5 and 6. Join him on a real tracking experience in a wilderness area close to Pietermaritzburg.

• For further details, e-mail or phone the Brookby Centre at 033 344 3094.

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