Sunday, September 8, 2013

Herp Tracking Book: Part 1 - Overview

Its been 5 years since I have posted here.  So much has changed in that time, it is as if it has been a lifetime.

Over the past several years, I have been engaged in researching, data collection, photography and writing for a new book.  I have never written a book before, and this one has been an incredible challenge.  That is a major understatement.

Not only has it required a great deal of new (almost all new in fact), field-based research but it is also about a very understudied topic.

I originally worked with one co-author, who contributed hugely to the project and he is still contributing to this project today even though he has had to step back from the project for personal reasons.  I signed on with another co-author, but I am writing here about my own experience of the process of this book and although I am not referring to either of these people directly, they have both helped further this project.

This book is focused on the tracks and sign of reptiles and amphibians for the USA.  In hindsight, perhaps an overly ambitious project.  I would also say in someways it has been wildly successful and groundbreaking.

So why another book on wildlife tracking?  Isn't there enough of those in the world?  Why reptiles and amphibians?

Well, first of all...

Wildlife tracking is a set of skill that is (or was until very recently) a dying art and science.  To me, it is a wonderful and deeply personal gateway into the mysterious realms of the natural world.  Through the tracks I can see written on the ground the stories of many animals, most of which I never see in person but who's story is none the less visible to those who know how to read it.

I don't profess to have some magical ability to read tracks, just a set of real-world skills that are based in the hard work I have put in while studying in the field. Looking at and following tracks is very real.  More real than many things people do in this day and age.  Tracking is such an intimate practice, that although it is a science on the one hand, to me there is also a deeply personal, spiritual aspect to it as well.


The book is an expression of my personal passion for tracking as well as for those wonderful, under appreciated animals: reptiles and amphibians.  (For short, they are known as "herps.") 

There are no books that I know of that are strictly focused on the tracks and sign of reptiles and amphibians.  So, this book is also filling a need for more people to know about this area of tracking.
There exists a growing community of wildlife trackers in the USA, and I hope that this book is well received by them and by anyone else interested in wildlife.

It is part of my intention with this project that this book, when published with not only encourage readers to go out and look for tracks and sign of herps, but through them will gain a more intimate contact with and appreciation for those animals.

This project has been incredibly challenging, humbling and has required a great deal of hard work and sacrifice.

The Positive

I have had my life greatly enriched by this project through wonderful experiences with wildlife and jaw-dropping landscapes.  I have learned vastly more and stretch myself mentally and physically beyond my own limited beliefs of what is possible.

I have had the assistance of many people, including both close friends and complete strangers.  Without their generosity, this project would have been doomed to failure.

I feel such a welling up of warmth and gratitude towards all of those people, especially those who spent time with me doing research in the field.    You know who you are. Know that I really appreciated our time learning and exploring together!  My words can not express my gratitude fully here...

The Negative

As the projects nears completion, I have been come almost entirely anti-social, and personally unavailable to close friends.  I hope that when this time of intense work passes, none of them hold any resentments or frustrations with me.  I have had to live in a bubble where I really only see those I work with and my closest family at home.  I wonder how many writers out there become - at least for a time - hermits that hardly venture out or see friends?

This project has been funded almost purely out of pocket.  It has been a project of passion, but has thus far brought in no money and will not do so until after publishing.  Even then, it might be sometime before I make back the money spent to create this book.

As much as I got to see a variety of incredibly beautiful and very special places, I did not always get to spend as much time there as I wanted to.  This project required a focused approach while in the field, and that did not always allow for a great deal of down time.  In the future, I will have to try to attend to those places and do them justice, but getting to know them at a much slower pace.

I will share more on the process in a little bit.  Perhaps sharing here will help others better understand what the heck I have been doing all this time.