Q&A with Tom Brown, Jr., with Randy Walker, Jr., authors of Tom Brown’s Guide to Healing the Earth

1. What is Tom Brown’s Guide to Healing the Earth about? And why did you write it?

I wrote TOM BROWN’S GUIDE TO HEALING THE EARTH now because I felt the urgency of the challenges we face and saw the accelerated rate of collapse our Mother Earth is undergoing. I felt the time was now for me to present these particular tools and concepts Grandfather conveyed to me, sooner rather than once it becomes too late to reverse the destruction of our Earth Mother. I made this decision right as I was almost done with an updated revision of my book, Tom Brown’s Guide to City and Suburban Survival, first released about 30 years ago. My gut was screaming at me to write TOM BROWN’S GUIDE TO HEALING THE EARTH instead. 

In some ways, it seems already too late to make the changes in direction needed to preserve the natural lands we still have. Humanity must adopt an attitude of giving back to the Earth, instead of taking from her without regard, so ecosystems under attack from the relentless march of misguided progress, industrialization and greed become a thing of the past. The challenges we face can feel overwhelming at times, as if there’s no going back to the purity of nature, but each person who chooses to become a caretaker and healer helps immensely and can find that purity in nature.

I felt it was the right time to share the tools and teachings Grandfather shared with me so many years ago about how one person can make a difference. I wanted to convey how each act of caretaking and healing the Earth, no matter how seemingly small, is not only physically helpful, but the caretaker’s positive intent sends out a spiritual message. I needed to present how any person can develop a relationship with our Earth Mother and with The Spirit that Moves in and Though All Things. These inter-relationships are not a one-time experience, but a continuous practice that builds in power.

 2. For those who are not familiar with your work, what is tracking and what sort of work do you do at the Tracker School in the New Jersey Pine Barrens?

In Grandfather’s language, the word for tracking is also the same word for awareness. So to Grandfather, tracking and awareness were inseparable. 

Through the reading of track shape, gait pattern, and pressure releases, you can know what animal made the track, how fast or slow they were traveling and how alert they were to any danger. From the macro and micro pressure releases in the tracks you learn if the animal was hungry or thirsty, sick and from what type of illness, their mental and emotional state, bladder full or empty and countless additional information.

In the Standard Class at the Tracker School, students learn the track shapes, gait patterns and the first six pressure release studies. Then it’s up to the students to put in the ‘dirt’ time and hone their tracking skills. 

This ‘dirt’ time or experience also pertains to the skills taught in the Standard class related to the Sacred Order of Survival: Shelter, Water, Fire and Food. Students learn the fundamentals of shelter building and the debris hut as a basic survival shelter. They learn how to find potable water, make primitive water filters and solar stills. Each student carves their own bow drill kit and learns how to burn a coal to blow into fire with a tinder bundle. The Primitive Camp resounds with cheers and hoots whenever a student gets their first fire. The most labor-intensive aspect of most survival situations is food. Students learn the basics of primitive cooking, plant identification, stalking game, basic animal traps and so much more. I also present an introductory lecture on Awareness and Grandfather’s Worlds of Spirit, sharing how there is much more than the physical world most of us operate in.

Once a Student has taken the Standard Class, they can choose which aspects of Grandfather’s teachings they would like to further explore. Tracking and Awareness, in one form or another, are a component of every skill taught at the school. 

3. What are some lessons you learned about the Earth from Grandfather?

Grandfather taught me that the Earth is a living being. I learned not to view myself as above the entities of the Earth, but as a humble participant in her worlds. Every element of the Earth is alive and has energetic fields. Every element needs to be honored and respected for what it provides. I learned that by surrendering to Mother Earth, by showing her respect and honor through my actions, that our Earth Mother will then provide for all my needs. I learned how it is of vital importance to respect the carrying capacity of any ecosystem, taking only what I needed in a prayerful manner. I learned to harvest from the Earth in ways that promoted its health and balance. 

Grandfather taught me to see the miracles that are all around us each moment of the day. Through his example, he taught me to feel the wonder and joy of sitting for hours, watching a blueberry bud opening into a flower or the deep appreciation and gratitude he experienced each time he drank water from his cupped hands. Grandfather never took for granted the life-giving properties he was ingesting. Grandfather taught me how through awareness of the concentric rings of nature, you learned the ebb and flow of the day. Through his ability to read concentric rings, Grandfather knew when a fox was setting off bird alarm calls over a mile distant. Grandfather lived what he taught and I learned to live in those worlds alongside of him. 

4. What are some practical methods for helping our environment?

Every act of caretaking and healing the Earth makes a difference. These acts send out a positive concentric ring into the environment near and far: from the simple act of picking up trash left on a trail in the woods, to picking a dead branch, fallen from a tree, off of the underbrush below to free the lower bushes to gather the life-giving sunlight they seek.  At the end of the book there are 14 stories from my past students who took Grandfather’s caretaking skills to heart and illustrate through the different projects they carried out, how diverse acts of caretaking can be.

Protecting water sources in danger of becoming polluted is vital to our survival as well as working to clean up waters already polluted. Water is one of our most endangered resources, so we must work to preserve what potable water we still have and encourage its health by freeing the flow of water in whatever ways we can. This can be done by removing brush from waterways to freeing waterways of silt and sediment that is blocking its flow.

Many people all over the world are planting trees and this is heartwarming to see. Along with trees, encouraging the growth of other types of edible and medicinal plants is important. As our environment warms, ecosystems are changing at a dramatic rate. Eventually, plants that thrive in warmer climates will migrate to the cooler climates that are warming up. We can accelerate this process by transplanting needed plants from warmer climates to those climates that are warming and will lose certain species. Grandfather taught that we can do for the Earth what she cannot do for herself, unless she is given a much longer period of time to do so, and time is not what we have at this moment in our existence.

5. What would you say or how would you respond to people who question whether climate change is man-made and beyond our control?

I would first ask them if they have been paying attention to any changes in the weather, its patterns being different or possibly storms increasing in intensity and duration. I might respond with anger to the denial that our planet is showing signs of struggle and imbalance, as extinction events accelerate and ecosystems once vibrant, struggle to survive. When you take a sailing trip on the ocean, you must bring all the supplies you need with you. Think of our Earth as a sailboat floating through space. Will we have enough supplies on board for our grandchildren’s children? 

Climate Change starts from the bottom up with the disruption or the destruction of each and every ecosystem, big or small. As each is destroyed, be it for housing, big-farms, malls, roads, bridges, dams, factories, military facilities and weapons testing areas, mining and fossil fuel facilities and the list goes on, each action takes away from the intricate balance of our planet, reducing our resources of clean air, water, earth and the interplay between them. I’d ask this person if they have been blind to these not-so-subtle changes going on around them? 

This subject is close to my heart, and I feel the suffering of our Mother Earth deeply in my soul. I clearly remember the illegal dumping in the woods or polluted stream I encountered in my travels with Grandfather throughout the Pine Barrens, on up to ones I encounter today. I can relive each discovery and my visceral reaction in that moment of the shock, sadness and anger I felt. It was hard for me growing up with Grandfather, not to release my rage and anger at those who saw the woods as their own dumping ground. Grandfather taught me to hate the ignorance and not the person. 

6. What did you learn about yourself as you wrote the book?

From Randy:

As I attempted to put Tom’s stories and methods of caretaking and healing together and present Grandfather’s ways of caretaking and healing, I realized how much a part of my life caretaking has become over the years. When I walk in the woods, practice primitive skills or tracking, I always see the landscape through the lens of a caretaker. In a way, I had taken this perspective for granted.

When we decided to use the Sacred Order of Survival as the central chapters in the book, our goal was to focus on shelter, water, fire and food as areas where caretaking and healing the Earth are needed if human kind is to survive on our Earth Mother. As the book progressed, I realized that by taking to heart Grandfather’s lessons on caretaking and living with the Earth over the past 27 years, how much my relationship with our Earth Mother has grown. 

Caretaking was introduced in the first class I took at the Tracker School and some elements of caretaking and healing our Earth Mother are present in every class Tom teaches. Some of my favorite times as a student were when Tom would send us out to collect a stick or stone or plant for a particular exercise.

From doing the research for the book, I learned so much more about the ways humanity has depleted and is depleting all the life-giving elements that comprise the shelter, water, fire and food that make up our life on earth and that of all living things. Tom has been very clear in relaying Grandfather’s prophecies, that the possible future of collapse would not be a pretty thing.

It’s scary to see and feel how threatened our way of life is at this time and place. Business as usual will get us all killed, and for what? What struck home for me is the importance of each person experiencing an inner transformation, one that connects to the ‘real’ world. Only when individuals can embrace their own inner transformation can a global transformation occur. We have to shift priorities from individual profit to a collective consciousness that lifts up the rights and needs of each person in concert with our ongoing efforts in healing and honoring our Earth Mother. Becoming a healer of the earth is something each person can do and at the same time enrich their lives from the connections they make as they open themselves to the worlds of nature. 

7. How can we make the wilderness healthier for plants and animals?

First, we must recognize when an area is in balance or out of balance. In the book I share how Grandfather would look at the mouse, vole and mole population as an indicator of an area’s general health; the larger the population of mice, voles and moles, the healthier the area. So learning how to detect such populations is a first step. The book presents ways to increase these populations by making shelters for them and introducing plants they feed on into the area. Once the population of mice, voles and moles increases, other herbivores come into the area, as well as the animals that prey on them. This is one way to help increase the health of an area. 

We can look at water sources, seeking ways to increase their flow. When a stream has a healthy flow, aquatic plants thrive as well as the amphibians, fish and insect populations. Cleaning garbage from waterways is also a way to increase a waterway’s health. 

All the concepts and tools presented in the book are geared to learning ways to help not only wilderness areas, but how to make any area healthier for plants and animals. 

8. How can spending time in nature and the wilderness affect our mental health and spiritual connection?

Three tools presented in the book will help not only one’s spiritual connection to our Earth Mother, but improve one’s mental health. The first tools are Wide-angle Vision and Fox Walking, or walking at a slow pace. Wide-Angle Vision (WAV) is a way to take in a large area into our range of vision. Grandfather called Wide-Angle Vision the doorway to Spirit. Fox Walking is done by stepping with the ball of your foot first, rolling down the outside of your foot and finally putting your full weight down on your foot once your heel makes contact with the ground. You move a bit slower and quieter when Fox Walking.  

Then you can put the two together. Slowly Fox Walk in WAV in a natural setting if possible, but anyplace will do. In less than three minutes, you will find that your mind has slowed down and you have entered a deeper state of consciousness, most people enter an alpha state. This state is soothing and expansive, fostering a higher sense of awareness and a connection between you and the environment. 

The third tool is the ‘slows’. Do the above exercise, but slow down each step times four. Slowing down even more resets your inner clock to ‘earth time’. In ‘earth time’ you are more in synch with the environment around you, becoming more aware of your senses, along with the sounds and movements around you, more aware of the moment. Ten to twenty steps in ‘slow time’ is a great way to reset yourself and let go of the inner rush that the work-a-day world bombards us with.

9. Anything else?

First and foremost, we have to develop the mind of a caretaker, we need to learn to approach every entity in the natural world with honor and respect. Whenever a caretaker needs to take the life of a plant or animal, that entity is treated with thanksgiving and gratitude. This inner act of respect turns into a feedback loop. When collecting edible and medicinal plants is done in a right way, the next year that family of plants will be even more healthy and bountiful. Collecting the right way and pruning certain plants is what they need to grow stronger.

The beginner caretaker consciously decides to pick up a piece of trash or when to put out seeds, nuts and grains for local birds and animals. As time goes on, the action becomes less conscious and more as an inner reaction, a service to all around them, that calls to them and that feels right to do on an internal level. Eventually the caretaker finds that this feedback loop is also a form of self healing. As the caretaker becomes more of a healer to our Earth Mother they are simultaneously receiving healing through their selfless actions.

Making caretaking a way of life, no matter how large or small your projects, helps the earth, air, water and all life, a little at a time. More importantly, the caretaker becomes more and more connected in their heart to the land they clear of trash or the birds they feed. You find yourself treating the plants that make up those landscapes as a friend and ally.

My last thought is to encourage you to have fun with all the tools and concepts that Grandfather passed on to me and that I am sharing in this book. Caretaking and Healing in nature is a kind of dance, an interaction with the natural world and the Spirit that Moves in and Through all Things or the Force Spirit, acts of giving and receiving as you move through a landscape. The inner and outer connections you make with all around you, grow deeper and richer as time goes on.

All Good Medicine,

Tom & Randy