FYI all - Tristan Gooley (author of 'The Natural Navigator') has a new book - 'The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs'. I just picked up a copy and will stick a review here when I finish it (may be a little while).
So, I promised a review of this, but it too me a while to work through to it in my giant reading pile.
For me, this book was a watershed. For years, I have been trying to improve my observation of the world around me, with limited success. This book has bumped me to the next level, as it has tied in with prior reading (indeed the author's previous book was one piece of this reading, but it wasn't that prior book that led me to grok it!) and some observational and tracking training I have had, and just helped it all gel.
Don't get me wrong, I still have a huge distance to go with this, but this book has pushed me a good way forward and just made the world a more interesting place for me.
If you are receptive, and ready for it, I think this book can literally open your eyes to things in the world that you may have been missing everyday. It teaches you to really look at the environment you are in and truly notice it, to spot the clues all about you, make connections from them, and extrapolate something that was there to be found but was hidden. You can use these techniques to find direction, or to discern the habits of things around you, or see into the past of the place you are in.
You will truly notice the blowing of the wind, the movement of clouds, the way the grass has bent in a paddock, how certain trees look like they have been lifting weights, or how another tree is tall when it should be short. You will hear the different calls of birds, see how moss has grown in some places but not others, notice how one part of a street is just a little more worn than the the rest, wonder (and answer) what ivy and other vines are reaching for, and many other things. You will start to notice where water has puddled, ants have made their nest, and perhaps perceive some of what has shaped the land you walk upon. Tracks and trails will start to jump out at you. You may even realise where it would be best to go to get a photograph of a rainbow at sunset. Better still, you will notice all this and begin to perceive what story it is telling you about the place you are in! It is all quite marvelous!
Some people can already do all that - I wager many on this forum are already very accomplished in this area. But I was not. I couldn't even begin to do it. I had many of the bits, but couldn't put them together. Now I can, reasonably well. Maybe I can begin now.
To be helpful to other less aware folk like myself, let me suggest to you some traps I have noticed and that you can perhaps avoid if I point them out - for this to work, you must walk with an open and questioning mind, seeing all there is to see and all the clues offered. You must take all your environment in, and not tunnel your attention or observations on specific things for very long(e.g. trying to find direction from the clouds, or even trying to find direction from multiple sources, or studying only the plants around you) lest you miss other clues. The trick is not to seek direction (or whatever), but discover it if it is there to be found. Prioritise perhaps, but let your attention move around.
You must also never seek something to support an assumption you have (or you will find it, but it will likely be wrong), but must see what is really there.
You must also notice when things change. Do not rest upon your laurels. This kind of information is usually highly situational and the clues will change as you move, and you must notice them change as they do.
Lastly, and this is the hardest thing, you must keep practicing every day because as soon as you forget and allow your attention to turn only inwards, then your eyes will close and your mind go to sleep, and you will once again start to miss the world around you.
P.S. It's not a trap, but FYI, this book is written for the northern hemisphere, specifically for the UK walker, and some specific facts and scenarios listed in the book do not apply elsewhere (but a variation may well apply, if you think it through. Do not try to rote learn signs and clues).
Thanks Cam, I visited the website(thanks Hairyman) I saw that one of his books had been revised for the USA. How much of the book is Northern hemisphere specific? Does he give Southern Hemisphere equivalents? Or is that not really the point and it is mainly a philosophy?
Thrud - he usually doesn't give Southern Hemisphere examples. In fact he completely omits it as a consideration a lot, which is a flaw in his books that you want to keep in mind (he knows what to do, as evidenced when does remember to mention it, but since he fails to mention it and presents rules as true without qualifying location it could confuse folk).
But (a) as it is mainly philosophy and training yourself to start seeing things and make connections this is not a huge issue, and (b) where he gives an example that is northern hemisphere specific you can still figure out the Southern equivalent (which is actually a good thing, come to think of it, since it means you are actively engaged in the process and noticing your environment is telling you something, which supports the philosophy). E.g. if he says the sunny side of a slope at noon is the southern side, then down here it will be the northern side (because for us, the sun is generally in northern side of the sky, though to a lesser degree for those way up north Queensland or NT I guess, and also bearing in mind exceptions like the equinox at dawn/dusk). Basically if he gives a rote rule or mnemonic or something, think about it and figure out if it applies here, and if not, what needs to change. E.g. In his prior book, 'The Natural Navigator' he gives one particularly bad (and complicated) example where he offers a calculation you can do to determine direction from the moon vs the sun's position taking in the time and moon phase. That calc completely fails down south. But I figured out my own variant by looking at where the moon actually was in the sky via other means and then modifying the calculation until it supported reality, and then tested that for different times and days (I probably didn't need to reinvent the wheel as it is probably online somewhere, but I couldn't find it).
FYI - and this method that almost goes beyond the bounds of natural navigation, so don't worry if you never want to use it - the calc is: figure out how many hours since noon, multiply that by 15 to give Sun's position relative to its noon position. Add that to 360. Figure out how many days since new moon (via the moon's phase) and multiply by 12. Take that away from the earlier figure and that should be the moon's position in the sky. e.g. if it is 6pm o'clock then the sun is at about 90 degrees to its position at noon (6 *15). Add that to 360 and you get 450. If the moon is 7 days from new (i.e about half full) then to figure out where it is in the sky you need to multiply 7 * 12 giving 84, and then take that 84 from 450, giving you 366. I.e the moon should be approximately North at the specific moment you calculated. With practice this gets easier, though without practice I tend to forget the calculation itself - I hope I got it right this time or I just gave you all a bum steer! Also, don't forget to account for daylight savings!
However you can also say 'bugger it' and use the stars or just do the crescent moon trick for a rough northerly direction instead. In fact, ideally what you are doing is absorbing all available input to corroborate each other and thus reduce the likelihood of error. So in this case you'd use the moon crescent trick, corroborate it with the stars, and note an ants nest in a specific location - i.e. it is probably a sunny spot and thus likely very roughly Northerly facing (in the southern hemisphere). If something is out of sync you hopefully notice and then figure out why you have an exception, as it means you are making a mistake or is a clue to something different in your environment (e.g. the ants nest is in the wrong spot. Have you made an incorrect assumption about the location ants like to build their nests? Or maybe you have a weird breed of ant? Or maybe there is something odd going on with the soil here? It could be worth looking closer at that and seeing what you discover). See, that's what I was saying about not tunneling. You need it all for the observation thing to really start to click, not just the individual bits.