Track Talk #1 “Willow and the Snake”

I guess I should start off with telling you what “Track Talk” is.

For just over three years, 95% of my mornings are spent walking my dog (Willow) on a familiar route from my house that inevitably takes us onto the local rail tracks. so now you get the connection with the “Track”.

man on railroad tracks with small dog
Willow and I three years ago, starting our track walks that led to Track Talks.

During those walks and since Willow is not very good at providing verbal feedback, I find myself in my head having those internal dialogues that most people experience. With me, my mind is in constant dialogue except when I am focused on something in particular, like being behind the camera, or creating something. In those cases, I am very present.

The talk is usually on a problem that needs solving and the walk gives me the space to clear my mind to be more creative with a solution. Other time, the talk will take a tangent based on an observation I experienced during that time period.

Many, many times, these Track Talks beg to be written and I find myself creating a blog post of the speech going on. Unfortunately, while I am inspired during the walk, when I get home and reality checks in with a full bombardment of distractions that assaults the creative flow, I rarely get those thoughts out onto a page.

Today is different. Today I say, back off schedule and unfulfilled commitments – this need to share has to happen.

Even as I have been writing to this point, I have had to ward off several temping emails, and invitation to go for a drive and pay my property taxes! (I will pay them after this post – lol)

This is Track Talk #1 – an observation and thoughts about that observation that happened today.

On the tracks and because it’s that time of the year and this morning the sun was out making it fairly warm during the walk. Willow and I are making good time and although in past days I have noticed one or two snakes basking in the sun, Willow had not.

It had not even occurred to me that she never had seen one before. After all, the tame garter snake here are coloured in tones of brown and blend very well into the surrounding terrain. By the way, I am not a great fan of snakes and enjoy admiring them from afar or behind a glass. Because they look so much like a regular stick, I jump when that stick starts to move in any direction, even though it’s usually in the opposite direction from me.

Today, Willow discovered snakes or in truth a snake.

There she was, nose to the ground on a scent of either some rabbit, grouse or deer that might have passed through earlier and her nose came to one of those animated sticks!

Never saw her jump before and she jumped! All fours up the air, doing a quick 180 in mid-air with her eyes glued to the offending snake. When she landed, she immediately backed away.

As my heart started to slow down again, and Willows we continued on the walk. What was interesting to me was the change in focus and attention for most of the walk.

Willow was now observing every stick.

Dogs are smart, many animals are smart and there are many debates about the degree some animals of smartness they have. I do know, it’s not a human brain however we do share a primitive function common to all brains – survival.

In past survival for ourselves, and that of our animal friends, there are three questions that are constantly asked by the primitive brain when it encounters something:

  1. Will it hurt or kill me?
  2. Can I eat it?
  3. Can I have sex with it?

Willow quickly concluded based on my perception of what I observed, that moving stick had potential – potential perhaps to hurt or kill her!

I do know, to Willow if it moves, it’s game and “I will capture and kill it unless Rick stops me.”

Which I do as often as I can. The mole last week was not so lucky.

So for the next 15 minutes Willow checked every snake, I mean stick that remotely looked like a snake. Even, did a slight jump when she thought it was one – I did too. (Good thing I’m usually by myself during these times – crazy old guy on the tracks doing a dance – walk away!)

As humans, we do something similar.

All of imagination – everything that we think, we feel, we sense – comes through the human brain. And once we create new patterns in this brain, once we shape the brain in a new way, it never returns to its original shape.

Jay S. Walker

If we experience something new and it’s attached to pain or pleasure we look for the pattern that is associated to it and keep that in our memories for future use. Willow only knows it’s a snake because the pattern of a snake is not like a blade of grass but that of a small,  narrow, rounded and brown stick. So she kept seeking that pattern, finding something familiar to that pattern, then deciding snake – no snake.

We constantly seek patterns. We learn to read and and we survive the primitive jungles through pattern recognition. Everything we do is based on a pattern. Could you image learning to type, if they changed the key locations every time?

To hunt in the woods, you look for the something that does not represent the pattern of the woods. Tree lines are vertical, animal lines are horizontal. Hunters train their eyes to look for those horizontal lines.

There is a lot more about patterns and what I observed today is a basic one that follows this pattern:

  1. Observe it
  2. Experience it
  3. If it gave me pain – I move away, if it gave me pleasure – I move towards it
  4. Make a memory of it for future reference.
  5. Continue to look for that pattern if it serves a purpose.

Patterns are stored in the unconscious. Unless you are actively in pursuit, the pattern is stored and surfaced when required. Let’s face it, when you wake up in the morning, your not looking for a mouse, but if that rolled up sock, stuffed in a dimly lite corner of your room resembles the pattern, you react – until your rational side cautiously checks it out. It always was a sock until your brain turned it into something else, at least for the moment.

While pattern recognition has it’s purpose, particularly in learning, there are patterns that don’t serve us well, and that will have to be for another Track Talk.

I better go and pay my taxes…oh wait, I don’t have to do this till end of month! (hmmm, I think I see a pattern.)

What is your experience with patterns?


RICK RUPPENTHAL is a professional Personal and Leadership Transformational Coach and a Certified Change Practitioner. As a retired paramedic of 30 years, Rick has held positions in leadership, education, as a coach and a mentor. Through those experiences, understanding, and adaptability, Rick has dedicated his life to a continual journey of self-discovery, adventure, and guiding others on their own journey of being their best self.

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