Since his early boyhood in the 1960s, Jon was raised first with elders from his family who fed his interest in nature and mentored him early in the ways of fishing, hunting, catching wild animals, caring for wild pets, using field guides and listening to the birds for their messages.
Upon this foundation, Jon built a deep understanding of the language of nature through his mentoring with now famous tracker and author Tom Brown, Jr. These two had a fateful meeting on a street corner over a really large snapping turtle. The year was 1971, 7 years before Tom wrote his first book, The Tracker. Seeing Jon’s keen interest in nature, Tom took it upon himself to mentor Jon in a lineage of tracking, bird language, survival and nature connection skills that few today have had the opportunity to experience. These are the ancient and powerful skills of the hunter-gatherer nomadic ancestors.
When the Tracker School opened in 1978, Jon was one of the first instructors—at the age of 18. With great commitment and excitement about the skills and the way in which they are best transferred between generations, Jon pursued a five-year course of study at Rutgers University in natural history, anthropology, and education, designing his own major in the field of Environmental Awareness. His study focused on the question, “How do people most effectively and efficiently learn these old ways and integrate them into their modern existence?” From there he founded a program in 1983 and began mentoring people according to the same patterns he experienced growing up with his elders, with Tom Brown, Jr. and with what he discovered in his research.
In 1984, Jon was joined by a distinguished elder by the name of “Ingwe” – a name that was bestowed upon him many years earlier by the Zulus in South Africa. “Ingwe” means “the leopard”, and it was the third time an African tribe had given him this name. Born of British ancestry in Capetown, S.A. in 1914, Norman Powell (Ingwe) moved with his family when he was six years old to settle a farm in the wilderness of Kenya. There he was the only child around from the western world. His playmates, uncles, aunties and adopted elders were all Akamba hunter-gatherer tribes-folk. Therefore, Ingwe grew up with the skills of tracking and bird language, too. Jon and Ingwe compared notes on bird language and tracking and found total compatibility in this amazing, holistic complex of art and science. Encouraged by this, these two began a long history of mentoring and developing a movement to mentor people in connection with nature and community.
Ingwe passed away in 2005 at the age of 93. Jon continues this work, and has sustained his mentoring relationships with some of the original youths Jon and Ingwe trained over two decades ago. One such youth of those early days was Dan Gardoqui, who has continued his nature connection journey and recently served as science editor for What the Robin Knows; Dan currently leads White Pine Programs in Maine. Jon and Dan worked with the Museum of Science’s “A Bird’s World” in Boston to incorporate bird language into the popular exhibit. The mentoring continues!
Jon’s leading-edge work on bird language has been posted in magazine articles and in books including: Animal Tracking Basics, Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature, BirdTalk and Exploring Natural Mysteries, and is the subject of popular audio CD series including Seeing Through Native Eyes and Advanced Bird Language.
Check out Jon’s website www.jonyoung.org for information on his publications and appearances.