I have now read hundreds, if not thousands of accounts of aboriginal trackers and scouts, whether they be Native Americans, Polynesian mariners, or the very impressive aborigines of Australia. These accounts are almost invariably written by a western observer who reports their uncanny skills as being on par with the supernatural, but in the end it all comes down to a razor-honed awareness of seemingly everything around the scout/tracker.
It seems all senses are greatly engaged sight, hearing, smell, touch, and even taste. Some of us have experimented with honing these senses within our own training but that is not what I am offering here. I’m passing along an observation from Harold Gatty an esteemed natural navigator who wrote The Raft Book for the US Army Air Force in WWII.
Gatty who made a lifetime study of how indigenous peoples navigate without compass or map has many interesting things to say, but this basic one has stuck with me. He notes that these “primitive” trackers [his word not mine] use color as a cue or clue far more often than Western man. He notes that he has observed scouts note the differences in gradations of color from one side of a tree or slope of land to the other. He remarks that where often the Western scout will see a tree and note its size and perhaps species, the primitive tracker will note size, species, and variations in hue among like trees.
It strikes me that I am perhaps a little color-blind myself in the figurative and not literal sense and that perhaps a conscious effort to awaken myself to the colors around me might be yet one more way to remind myself to be awake and aware of my surroundings.
I offer the following self-test to discover if you, too, might be color-blind.
· What color are the eyes of the last human you interacted with?
· What color was their clothing?
· What color(s) is/are the sign of the last establishment you walked into?
· Think of a stop you make each day (intersection on the way to and from work, in line at school to pick up children, etc.) What color is all the vegetation in that area? Don’t ballpark it at green. That was my assumption, too, I had it more than a little wrong.
· If you are driving, don’t look in the rearview mirror before answering-what color is the car behind you?
· What color was the hair of the last cashier you encountered?
· What was/is the color of the last car you parked directly next to?
You get the idea. If you are anything like me you may find that you are a bit oblivious to the color-spectrum world, but with a little bit of “waking up” you will begin to see color again.
And for those who may wonder why such a skill or attribute needs to be trained? It is simply one more conscious effort to be awake and cognitively aware of the world around us. To be awake and aware will get us out of more trouble than all the self-protection tactics put together.
Besides, realizing that your world is more colorful than your take-it-for-granted version is not a bad place to live.