Talking Turkey

Five wild turkeys ambled through our yard today, not two hundred feet from our home. We frequently hear them in the morning back on the quarry and occasionally see them in the evening, well behind our house, roosting in the cottonwood and walnut trees. They’ve never come this close before, though, and even though I know that they’re simply wandering to and from the soy bean fields across the road and so are likely to pass close by either here or Red Fox Cabin, it still caused me a bit of concern. I worried that they were becoming less wary, less concerned about our presence and, by association, the presence of other people, as well. I worried about the upcoming turkey season and how they’d prove easy targets if they were comfortable around us.

I worried, that is, until I tried to get a photo.

It was Anne who first spotted them and pointed them out to me. They were walking down a path along the tree line that separates the farm part of The Quarry Farm from the nature preserve side. I grabbed my camera and headed out to where Anne had last seen them. I moved to the far side of the tree line and worked my way up the path on the other side, then down the path on our side of the trees. Then up again. Then down. You’re looking at every photo I was able to get. You see them, right? The photographs, here between the lines of black and white text? Yeah, neither do I. That’s because I couldn’t get any. I can’t say that I didn’t see them. I did, at least in bits and pieces: the glide of a blue-gray head; a bronze-feathered body slipping through brush; a quick flash of red from a wattle. But that was all I got, quick glimpses. They ran me round and round an area about the size of an American football field, always on the other side of the field and always virtually concealed in thick scrub. So, no worries about their growing comfortable with humans. And no photos, either, not of turkeys anyway. But, since a picture paints a thousand words, here’s a shot from the winter before last.

It is autumn, though, and there are plenty of other animals moving about. In the back field, a leopard frog boasted better than average camouflage. If it hadn’t jumped, I never would have seen it. In the woods, the last of summer’s dragonflies are torpid with the cold, allowing for some pretty extreme close-ups. Closer to home, in the crabapple tree some thirty feet from our front door, a wheel bug traveled leaf to leaf, hunting an increasingly rare meal.

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Raiding the Pantry, Old School

When I first started reading, after the picture books but before Tolkein and Bradbury and Ellison, I was drawn to stories like The Swiss Family Robinson and My Side of the Mountain. They were tales about people who basically fell off the map, who by accident or design no longer had access to civilization. To me, in great part, civilization meant grocery stores, because, hey, you can always find shelter, build a fire, weave a poncho out of leaves, design a method for extracting potable water from the air. That’s easy, right? But food? Come on, what are you gonna do if you can’t jet down to the local 7-Eleven or Krogers or Piggly Wiggly and grab a loaf of Wonder Bread and a jar of Peter Pan?

Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth on black raspberry bramble

As it turns out, you make the whole world your larder. Man, but that grabbed by imagination; that a person could just walk out and pick breakfast, unearth lunch and chase down dinner was about the coolest thing I could think of. I used to hide bananas and bologna sandwiches (safely wrapped in plastic baggies) in our back yard. Then I’d set out in search of food, knowing that if I failed, I’d surely starve. Those were great days and, not surprisingly, given all the melodrama I invested in the whole process, that was some of the best food I ever ate. And now, well, I have the opportunity to do it for real.

So I do.

Right now, the raspberries are starting to come in. It’s early for them. I usually don’t start seriously picking until around the 4th of July. This year, however, they’ve been coming on since the beginning of June. You’ll probably hear me say this a lot this year, but it’s the weather: the mild winter, the rain we had earlier this spring and the hot and dry conditions we have now. Everything’s early. We had red-winged blackbirds on the property in March, blossoms on the blackberry brambles in late April, grasshoppers in the bottom land in mid-May and now, black raspberries.

Berry patches are rife with macroinvertebrates. Here, an immature wheel bug perches in a bowl of black raspberries.

Now I get to go and play castaway, claw my way through the wilderness until I’ve gathered enough sustenance to keep me alive for a few more hours. It’s hard and dangerous work, but food is life.

On the other hand, if the berries don’t pan out, there’s always that loaf of Wonder Bread and the jar of Peter Pan.