Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reading Stories

More reflection on the Kamana program.

Since I was first introduced to The Tracker, almost twenty years ago now, I've always wondered why I have spent more time reading stories written by humans than reading the stories made by animals on the landscape. Well, I ran across this post with that question in mind. This excerpt from it explains it well:

One reason for this is that these stories are composed of languages that are new and unfamiliar to me.

Written English is what I grew up with. I was a precocious reader, and a voracious one. Literacy has been my source of story and identity for a long time. Whatever activity I explore, I accompany it by reading a book about it. And there’s no shortage of books about spirituality, magic, primitive skills, tracking, fighting.

But maybe I’m too locked into English. This is human language, after all, and seeking stories in human language keeps me trapped in the human world, keeps me in a hall of mirrors where I’m just trying to find another human who has come up with a story for me. It keeps me blocked off from other sources of story.

This is the dilemma, though: that, having been locked into human language for so long, I’m illiterate in other forms. I can’t read the language of the birds or animal tracks or plant growth. I can’t read the clouds or the wind or the seasons. And, being unable to read them, they aren’t meaningful to me in a direct way.

So I end up relying on other people’s descriptions. When I read Tom Brown, Jr.’s The Tracker, like many other people, I was captivated by the stories he could tell about nature. When I took his Standard class, one morning, simply in passing, he told a story about the tracks he saw that morning, about the raccoons that had rummaged in the garbage and the coyote that had stopped on the ridge and then ran away because he saw someone. What I wanted, above all, was to experience that kind of meaning, to read the world the way I could read a book.

The problem, though, as many a linguist will tell you, is that languages are best learned when you’re young. When you’re older, it takes a lot more effort to become fluent. It’s taken me many hours of practice to begin to be fluent in pulse diagnosis, and it’s at least related to my chosen profession. Certainly there are people who haven’t had the opportunity in childhood but have now developed a passion for tracking and have become very good at it. But I don’t want to have to be passionate about something in order to extract meaning from it. I want that meaning to be easy as me picking up a book. But it’s not, and won’t be without plenty of practice. And practice requires motivation, and motivation requires, well, a reason, a purpose, a Myth.

Does it all lead back to stories and myth?


Filip T. said...

Does it all lead back to story and myth?

Joseph Campbell would certainly think so!

It certainly seems true that cultures around the world are story-tellers. And humans being as cultural animals are very found of stories.

I have always liked the perspective on reality that life is a collective story in which everyone is a co-creator. That story is something that might be most simply described as Dreaming.

When I am motivating myself to learn to track, I do so by telling a story to myself about what I think I will be able to do one day (setting a goal). When I reflect on my progress thus far in tracking, I tell myself a story about it (I remember). Memory is not a complete process in itself, and even more so in reviewing it I like every other human am selective about what I remember.

Isn't that storytelling?

After all, stories are not just a regurgitation of exactly what happened but rather are made interesting by what is left out or altered by shortening or elaborating.

Curt said...

Filip T,

Thank you for sharing your way of doing things. I learn a lot from your posts.