If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my little adventure today as I followed the footprints left behind from the Wild Kingdom wannabes in our yard last night, it is that I am an expert tracker. Seriously, someone’s going to invent a time machine, grab a couple of persuasive mountaineers, and drop them off at my house to recruit me. No doubt their smelliness and their hairy faces will entice me to join them. We’ll go back to the 1800’s and they’ll be amazed at my ability to track bear, antelope, deer, elk, and various wild dogs and cats. More than all of this, they will be amazed at my ability to track the trappings of the modern world. Granted, my impressive skills will not likely be all that apropos to the wilderness of the 1800’s, but trappers will admire them none-the-less.
First, I will take them to the mall, where I will track down a good deal or several. My hunting prowess and bargaining dexterity will overwhelm them as they take notes in a poorly spelled language that is neither and both English and French so that they remember what to do the next time they trade furs. I’ll get boots for 75% off, slacks for $5 and they’ll all wonder what strange sort of training I’ve received. Perhaps, they’ll speculate, as we munch half-priced nachos at the food court, the great tracker was trained at some fancy boarding school, like Mrs. Kingston’s Tracking School for Purchasers of Fine Objects or the University of Good Deals.
Next, I’ll take them to my classroom, where the students will sit as far away from them as possible to avoid their stink. I’ll track down papers, and students, and missing assignments. I’ll track down missing library books and fines. The trappers will make mental notes not to ever lose anything around me as I pull crumpled assignments from notebooks and pens from thin air. I’ll track lesson plans and progress, parents and principals. And I won’t even break a sweat. No, I’ll still smell like a rose, hands tied behind my back, balancing on the tight rope.
Then, just when they think I can do no wrong, I’ll fall. Because, see, there’s one thing I can’t track. They’ll follow me through libraries, dances, coffee bars and parks as I stare at the floor looking for footprints. Maybe they’ll even remind me that the thing I’m looking for doesn’t leave a trace. I’ll look in its natural hunting ground: in churches and classrooms, or hiding behind stoney graves. But I won’t find it; the trackers will despair. We’ll stop and refuel with coffee (Voltaire is rumored to have consumed upward of 12 cups daily for inspiration). Jittery we’ll wander through bookstores and art galleries, surely there’s one trace, one forgotten print. But, alas, no. There won’t be, and the illusive beast will go unfound. The trackers will go home, and I’ll slump over the keyboard with nothing to say, because the story runs away.