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The art and science of tracking

We think of tracking as a method for looking at footprints and determining what or who passes there, and where they are going. In reality, it is much more than that.

Everything that passes across Arda, leaves a track on something else. The smell of dinner being cooked in a pot may drift a furlong away to a hungry nose. A fish splashing in a lake leaves circles that spread to the shores, long after the fish plunges to the depths.

But look at an apparently idle field of grass before you. If nothing ever touched the leaves of grass, they would all grow straight up to the sky, seeking the sun. But wind dances over their faces and turns the blades of grass here and there. A mouse sprints across the field to find its burrow, and leaves a track – until the grass grows back. A cow passes over the grass, biting the blades here and there. A sheep follows and pulls up the grass in its unique way. And of course, the foot steps of these animals leave marks unique to their species – and individual. Everything leaves its trace on something else when it passes.

A Ranger may study tracking all of his days upon Arda, and still find more to learn. Every answer creates a new question.

As we hunt, we provide food for ourselves and our people. And our ability to track and find game, and our ability to predict the future movements of the game, has a direct effect on how much work we need to spend hunting and how much food we can bring back to the campsite.

The Ranger’s ability to hunt has always allowed us to watch the yrch – goblins – and protect the lands of Men from them. We can look to the marks of feet in the soft mud, the bent branch, the carelessly hidden campfire, and know our foes’ next move, sometimes before they themselves realize where they are bound.

Creatures of Middle-Earth and how to know them through their tracks

Know your orc: A ranger's field guide to orcs