The Tracker
May 4, 2018 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Smokey Mtns. native, tracker of lost people, especially childen, knower of the woods The kind of knowledge this man has is precious and there doesn't seem to be any school or program that is learning from him, which is sad for us all.
posted by MovableBookLady (11 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this! I’m pretty into reading lost-in-the-wilderness stories, but they usually end with “AND ITS STILL A MYSTERY!” or “and then this super obsessed forum online triangulated his cell signal with the location info imbedded in his last photo and they found his bones!”

It’s pretty cool to read a low tech, high success narrative. I’d love to hike with this man.
posted by Grandysaur at 8:18 PM on May 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also there is little more that I love than folkways plant knowledge. Not like woo-ey herbalism but like a knowledge of a plant’s history and names and way of being and their place in the ecosystem. 😍
posted by Grandysaur at 8:35 PM on May 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Phillip, who was ten years old, had wandered away from his family while they were at Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, and as happens more frequently and more suddenly than you could ever imagine, he simply seemed to disappear.....“Dwight, over here! Someone’s talking to me from a bush!”That was Phillip, hiding away in the shadowy green of a rhododendron thicket

When I read "Clingmans Dome", those rhododendrons were the first thing I thought of...a friend and I tried taking a shortcut near there, and those thickets were brutal. If the boy had been unconscious, or afraid and hiding, they never would have seen him.
posted by thelonius at 9:01 PM on May 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I didn't know about the plant that can be used as a butt wipe with a little quinine on it. Could have used that knowledge a time or two. I think Dwight ought to have a summer school to impart all his knowledge before it gets lost in time.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:14 PM on May 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a very good reason those rhododendron thickets have long been known as "hells."
posted by nofundy at 5:23 AM on May 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

I live about two miles from Blackberry Farm (two miles if you're hiking, 15 if you're driving. You can't get there from here.) People like Dwight McCarter are sprinkled around the Park, if you know where to look. I'm friends with the long-time miller at Cable Mill in Cades Cove. He's a transplanted coonass (his word, not mine) so his accent is weird and he's not much use with the local plants but he's encyclopedic about grain, milling and historic food production. I try to listen hard when I have time with people like McCarter or my friend the miller.
posted by workerant at 8:01 AM on May 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is fascinating. I wonder how his knowledge compares to that of the indigenous people of the area.
posted by ephemerae at 8:28 AM on May 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

This story should have been five times as long. So many questions. There was a guy who worked on our farm for a while who had that sort of knowledge, but unfortunately he died quite young before I could learn everything.
My aunt did this thing with my cousin and me when we were kids where she deliberately got us lost when we were out riding, and then we had to find our way back. My cousin (her son), usually got tired of it at some point and let his pony find her way back, which she was excellent at. My pony wasn't particularly interested in going back (or anywhere at all), so I'd have to learn all the big and sometimes tiny indicators of where we were. We couldn't just follow the sun, because there were big impassible swamps all over the place. I loved the knowledge I gained from that, and I was invited to participate in a big search for a boy when I was just a very young teen, but later landscape management by the park authorities have changed everything, so I'd be as good at getting lost as my aunt now.
posted by mumimor at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2018

I'd love to read an entire book about this guy.

I grew up in the woods of NE TX, and skills like this are actually common among many people of that area. You grow up hunting - everything from rabbit to deer - and you learn how to "track" animals before or after a shot using a lot of methods that this man likely used to find children.

I can remember being with my grandfather in the woods, and watching him look at the ground, the bushes and limbs around him, and then say "That's the way, over there. he walked that way." I was astonished that he could do something like that, because I was looking for "tracks." Over the years, I learned that "tracks" from shoes or hooves or whatever isn't really what you're looking for. You're looking for what the shoes or hooves or feet DO to the woods around you. broken sticks, limbs pushed away from the trail, grass leaning one way or the other, rocks with smooth, slick surfaces rather than mossy ( that had been turned by what it was you were looking for) - urine. feces. strands of hair. blood. Leaves shifted or moved on the floor of the forest, disturbed, not as packed, etc.

And then sometimes it would be just completely impossible to figure it all out. "I just figured that if I were a deer, that's the way I would walk," or something like that.
posted by bradth27 at 1:19 PM on May 5, 2018

I love that he took the time to answer the boy's questions about the sounds he had heard. That boy might not grow up with a fear of the woods because of him.
posted by Weeping_angel at 7:28 PM on May 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

When I saw the title of the post I thought for sure it was about Tom Brown Jr. Those of you that enjoyed this article might want to follow up with Tom Brown Jr.'s Books.
posted by HuronBob at 7:33 PM on May 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

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