“The tradition of the scout gets at the heart of what makes it possible for all of us to cooperate — accountability through observation. It is the same foundation referred to in Foundations for Ecological Literacy.”
Perceiver, Protector, Provider, Preserver. These are four roles of the ancient scout, a tradition I was immersed in this past week (and to some extent in the past year). The scout is the epitome of ecological literacy. The source of that ecological literacy is the same source for the accountability and reliability of the scout as a community member and person.
Joanna and me shortly after returning from a week of little sleep immersed completely in our senses. Photo by Kristian Boose
Alderleaf Wilderness College describes the scout like this:
“Wilderness scouts played a vital role in hunter-gatherer cultures by traveling afar to locate food and resources, while gathering information on potential dangers. They were considered the “eyes & ears” and protectors of the tribe.”
The scout was vital to the well-being of whole communities and required total accountability. We can conjure the scout out of slippery traces from the past and discover a role model for how to live well together and how to show our true faces.
We learn the responsibilities of the scout with four P’s: Perceiver, Protector, Provider, Preserver. We learn the skills involved: deep naturalist knowledge; bird language, tracking; awareness and observation; and more.
In theory this all sounds noble, but how it is relevant to a busy life in an urban apartment is lost upon many. The tradition of the scout gets at the heart of what makes it possible for all of us to cooperate — accountability through observation. It is the same foundation referred to in Foundations for Ecological Literacy.
Our over-professionalized culture is so fragmented that there are few roles that require complete solidity of character. We generally draw sharp distinctions between personal and professional life and that is evidence of our lack of community accountability. There is implicit permission to wear several masks, but never show one’s actual face to any one group of people.
Accountability grows out of genuine awareness and observation. Observation requires continuously asking oneself, “what am I actually observing?” Sounds simple, but we are rarely called upon to be accountable to our senses. If you doubt this, begin documenting all the cases in which you or those around you offer up concepts instead of observations as the basis for a belief, action, statement, or opinion. OR, think back to childhood and ask yourself whether you were ever mentored in the challenging art of observation -- how to move the body while attuning the eyes, ears, nose, and skin to pick up different kinds of information accurately and how to use the art of questioning to confirm observations.
In the park a few weeks ago, I was looking up at the sky. A man walked by and said, “Oh, you’re watching the crow harass that eagle.” He walked on by quickly. I was watching one bird harass another, Cooper’s Hawk harassing Red Tailed Hawk. Cooper’s Hawk is smaller than Red Tailed and possesses a long, narrow tail, has stiff wing beats, and can be easily confused with Sharp Shinned Hawk, but not easily with Crow if one is seeing clearly. Among other features, Red Tailed Hawk’s beautiful cinnamon-colored fan of a tail was displayed fully in the bright sun. This man did not report what he was actually seeing, but a story that served some alternative purpose. I have to wonder if this attitude applies only to birds, or whether he carries it into all realms of life.
David Abram wonders:
Is it possible to grow a worthy cosmology by attending closely to our encounters with other creatures, and with the elemental textures and contours of our locale? We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of things — of insects and wooden floors, of broken down cars and bird pecked apples and the scents rising from the soil seems odd and somewhat misguided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing. According to assumptions long held by the civilization in which I’ve been raised, the deepest truth of things is concealed behind appearances, in dimensions inaccessible to our senses.” ~ David Abram, “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology”
In the first many years of every human life, a child relies exclusively on direct experience or on the reliability of the observations made by caregivers. Mathematics, microscopes, theories are secondary structures built upon the ability to use one’s primary senses. This remains true throughout life — the primary senses, “what are we actually observing,” is the only thing that holds us accountable. If they go undeveloped or become atrophied, so does accountability in society, science, religion, community, family…
I am grateful for my time learning the way of the scout. While the scout no longer exists as a discrete role in our society, we are each called upon to model the fundamental roles and skills of the scout if we truly wish to achieve goals likes democracy, equality, cooperation, and accountability. Reliability of observation is the foundation for children and adults alike, a tradition worthy of renewal.