Or Teaching yourself tracking, part 1, by F Mulder
OK, Today I thought I would abandon my local patch and head down to Kenfig NNR to see what early migrant birds were coming in, and have a wander round the dunes. Excuse my self indulgence here, but I had a great day, never mind the wind and rain.
Didn't see any Sand Martins, but did see a Chiffchaff and 8 Wheatear. Also saw a couple of Hares doing the full Mad March Hare routine, first time for me so I was well pleased. Lots of singing skylarks too. Most of the tracking on the dunes consisted of "ok, that's another set of dog prints and not fox prints because...."
I walked along the length of the reserve and decided to walk back along Sker beach, which is about 3 or so miles. Made some discoidal knives by bashing some of the beach cobbles together, this primitive stuff's great fun.
I quickly picked up on some tracks in the sand, very clear at first and was able to work out that the person was probably a male, feet just a bit smaller than mine and a similar pace to mine. Given the state of the tide then I would have said the tracks could only have been a few hours old at most. I got the impression that he was walking quite fast and was able to pick up occasional stops. I also noted steps where it would seem that he had turned his body, whilst walking, to look at something to his right (the sea was to my and his right). His pace seemed the same, but the "plates" of sand pushed back by the front of his boot seemed canted up to the left, if that makes sense. Another point I noted was that the sand was quite moist and if I put any great pressure through my feet then the track was almost obliterated, presumably the pressure liquified the sand/water mixture. So lighter steps produced better tracks.
For a while I was able to follow the tracks at a normal walking pace, with the sun to my right picking out the shadows far enough ahead. Once I got to a dry area it started to get a bit more tricky since the sand was blowing in the strong wind. I had to slow down and look closely for the outlines and realised that a tracking stick would have been handy to help measure the pace, easy enough to do when moving but harder when stopped. I found that the most useful indicator wasn't the outline itself but the eroded lump/plate of sand pushed up by the front of his shoe when he pushed off on each step. I would see that creating a shadow, then on checking I'd see the faint outline around it.
After about a mile of alternating dry and moist sand I was feeling pretty good about following this track, then disaster struck.... The surface changed to sand with about an inch or so of water flowing over and lots of pebbles and some beach cobbles. I thought I'd no chance now but once again those lumps/plates of sand came to my rescue. By and large the feet outlines had been washed away but the lumps remained, although smoothed and rounded by the water. Looking at one by itself I wouldn't have picked them up, but I was able to see the pace and alternating position of left and right. Most of this time I was now down on my hunkers and could really have used a tracking stick. Sometimes I'd lose the track and have to scout about, picking it up maybe 5 metres or so ahead, cursing him when he didn't keep to a straight line. Even the heavy rain by this time didn't seem to hamper things too much
I probably managed about half a mile of this before it came to the alien abduction point. Now one of the things I've picked up from reading Tom Brown's books, and watching the X files is to keep an open mind and always ask myself what do I see, what is happening to the tracks and what does it mean?
So all of a sudden the prints disappeared, no matter how much hunkering down, or casting about I did would turn them up. After a good ten minutes of this I had to accept the inevitable, the guy had been lifted off the surface of the earth.
Now I know what you're thinking here, maybe he was picked up by a helicopter or a harrier jump jet, right? Wrong, and for two reasons: Firstly, the downdraft from the helicopter rotor or the harrier's jets would have created quite a disturbance to the sand and pebbles, there was no evidence of this, the area was quite unremarkable. Secondly, by now I felt I was getting quite good at reading the guys actions, when he stopped, when he turned to look at something. At the abduction point he had been keeping the same pace for quite a few metres, if a Harrier or heli had flown over him he would have heard it from some distance and would at least have looked at it, and then stopped. I'm sure a heli wouldn't be able to scoop up a walking man at all, never mind without him being aware of what was happening.
So the case is proven, something picked this guy off the surface of the earth without him being aware of it. I'm guessing some sort of anti gravity drive, perhaps with a tractor beam? Obviously Heisenberg's uncertainty principle rules out some sort of dematerialising transporter like Star Trek, but that is only fiction isn't it.
I'd like to arrange for some of you guys to come down and review my findings, but I'm afraid that by now the tide will have wiped away all the tracks :-(
I had a great day out, found the tracks pretty absorbing and it was great to take some of the stuff from books into practice, particularly noticing the pressure releases and the importance of the tracks as a sequence not just isolated bits of evidence.