I am a tracker. Yep. Me.
I am a tracker in both a conventional sense (sort of) and an unconventional sense. I’m not a professional in any sense of the word. Maybe I should call myself an “observer” or a “spotter” but I like the word “tracker.” I am a tracker of everything.
I like to observe animal tracks, especially in the snow where they can be easily seen. I think to learn what critters are wandering across our property. I can easily identify deer and turkey. I have seen coyote tracks. A couple of years ago, a neighbor told us he has seen bobcat in our driveway in the early mornings. Interested, I looked up information about bobcats and although I’ve never actually seen any, I can now identify its scat (a tracker’s term for “poop”) that they occasionally leave in our driveway. I have seen where a rodent became an owl’s lunch–I saw the rodent’s tracks end at the imprint of large wings. I think it’s interesting to follow the tracks of our cats to see where they wander. I’ve occasionally seen other tracks which I can’t identify. I’d like to get a book about Michigan animal tracks so I can learn more.
I also like to track vehicles of different types.
I’m assuming my enjoyment of tracking vehicles started when I was a child. My Mom always got excited when mail was delivered. Not hugely excited. But she’d note when she spotted the mail jeep down the street and headed our way, and she’d be out to collect the mail as soon as it was delivered. It got so we’d shout, “Howard the mailman is coming!” or “The Mail is here!” I don’t know why I got so excited since I rarely got mail when I was a child, but the excitement of the mail being delivered has never left me.
After EJ and I were married and we started ordering items from the Internet–and companies sent tracking numbers!–I had fun tracking my item as it moved across the country. It added to the excitement of anticipation as I watched it move from city to city. USPS allows me to sign up for “Informed Delivery” to see exactly what is coming in the mail each day. UPS lets me “live track” their delivery truck on my computer when it’s “out for delivery.” How cool is that? When we moved to our Enchanted Forest, it became important (to me) to track my order. Packages, especially in winter, are often placed in what I call our “magic box” (because packages “magically” appear in it) at the bottom of our long driveway. I’ve heard there are people–porch pirates, they are called–who brazenly steal packages even from people’s porches. Since I can’t see our magic box from the house, I watch for emails or texts notifying me when a package has been delivered and then I hurry down to get it. A couple times, when I couldn’t find a delivered package, I found it misdelivered at our neighbors.
I like to watch trains. I grew up about a half block from the train tracks. When I was very young, I remember running out to watch the trains go by whenever I heard their toot. Later, I’d count how many cars the engine pulled and I’d wave to the engineer if I spotted him. When we were in high school, my siblings and I always walked home for lunch. We had only 10 minutes to walk home, 15 minutes to eat, and 10 minutes to get back to school. We had to cross the railroad tracks so if we heard a train whistle, we’d take off running so we wouldn’t be delayed. It’s been many years since I’ve lived near railroad tracks, but the lonesome toot of a train always brings back memories–and makes me feel like waving, counting, or running. EJ grew up near a town that was a major train hub and he also has a fondness for trains.
EJ and I both have always enjoyed observing weather as well. It’s really fun tracking storms on radar on our computer to see where they are headed, if they will hit/miss us, how severe they are. I have several sites and programs that lets us watch radar. When our son was younger, he and I used to leap into the car and follow storms, pretending we were storm chasers. (We wouldn’t stay out if the storms were bad.) A couple of years ago, EJ and I toured our local National Weather Service office. That was really fun and interesting.
I just learned a few months ago that I can also track wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanos around the world. Awesome! I occasionally watch Youtube videos created by someone called “Dutchsince” who is an expert on earthquakes. His descriptions and explanations of earthquakes occurring around the world are fascinating.
A couple of years ago, I learned that I can track snowplows in our area on an interactive map on a MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) website. It’s interesting watching where the snowplows are clearing roads, although most of the time I forget I have this capability.
I think it’s really fun to track boats on the Great Lakes. Maybe about 10 years ago(?), we went camping for a week near Port Huron, Michigan, where we discovered the Great Lakes Maritime Center. It was located right on the coast. Inside the building, there were monitors set up to enable people to track boats passing by. Outside there were canopies set up to provide comfortable shade for watchers. Every day we’d take lawn chairs and a picnic lunch and spend the day sitting peacefully under the canopies to watch the boats go by. Occasionally we’d go into the Center to learn when to expect a boat, what its name was, its origin/destination, what its cargo was, and other sorts of information. Sadly, I think the Center is no longer in operation.
We live closer to the Great Lakes now than we used to, and we watch boats go by if we are rock hounding along the coast, but we don’t live close enough the Lakes to be able to actually see ships every day. I have, however, discovered an online map that lets me track maritime activity on the Great Lakes–and even around the world. It’s amazing how much marine traffic is on the waters. Each color on the map below represents a different type of ship. Sometimes I wonder about the stories of people on boats and ships traveling around the world. What are they seeing? What are they experiencing? What dangers are they encountering? What are their stories? Every November I pause to remember the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, who was lost with her entire crew of 29 men in a terrible storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. It was immortalized in this song by Gordon Lightfoot. Currently, I am tracing the recent drama of the Ever Given ship that blocked the Suez Canal.
A month or so ago, I discovered that I can track airplanes online. It’s fun tracking ships, but even more fun tracking airplanes because I can see airplanes overheard more often than I can see boats on the Great Lakes. Before, we’d see an airplane flying across the sky and think, “Hmm. I wonder where the plane is from and where it is headed?” Now I can click on a plane on the map (below) and actually find out its origin, destination, speed, altitude, what kind of plane it is, and who owns or operates it. We live in the North away from heavy flight paths so I am astounded to find out that the planes overhead are flying to/from not only places within our country, but also to faraway places such as Belgium, Austria, Korea, Qatar, India…Last weekend, I dragged EJ outside several times. “Look in that direction. In a moment we are going to see a plane from Chicago headed toward Frankfort, Germany [or New York. or Dublin. Or Dubai. Or London.] Wait for it….waaaiiiittt for it. Look! There it is!”
I often wonder about the stories of the passengers on the planes. Why are they traveling to those faraway destinations? Business? Vacation? Visiting family? Sometimes I know. I mean, sometimes the plane or helicopter is identified as a medical flight. If a person is being transported by air rather than ground then I think they are probably having a very serious health issue. Last weekend I watched a medical plane fly from Mackinac Island to the mainland. Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron to the east of the Mackinac Bridge which connects Michigan’s two peninsulas. It’s a huge tourist destination in warmer seasons, although a few people do live there year around. The island is a unique place in that no motorized vehicles are allowed on it–only horses and bicycles. However, in the winter, residents travel by snowmobile. When Lake Huron freezes, they travel across it to/from the mainland by snowmobile. The route is marked by discarded Christmas trees after the holidays. Anyway, as I watched the medical plane, I imagined the serious drama occurring. I prayed for the person who was being transported until the plane landed.
I don’t just pray for people in emergency flights. If I am aware that people live in an area is being threatened by a natural disaster–especially if they are friends–I pray for them. This made me think about all the times people are unaware that they are being prayed for by strangers.
EJ and I also love to watch the International Space Station when it flies overheard. I just learned that I can get text notifications on my phone when the ISS is flying overhead. When I get a notification, EJ and I go outside to watch it. Yesterday I realized that I could probably learn WHO was on the ISS. I searched the Internet and, yep, Nasa actually provides information about the crew and their mission. The current crew went up in October 2020 and will be leaving this month. Knowing this makes it more “personal” to watch the ISS fly overhead. It’s not just a star-like light flying overheard. There are interesting people and stories onboard.
So now you know. I am a tracker of just about everything. I am also a collector of stories. I love stories. I think the world is filled with interesting things and with people with all sorts of interesting stories.
Update: I decided to share the links to the sites I use to track and explore, just in case you are also interested. You can find them at the top of my blog or just click here: Everything Links