A Sign of Hope

We’ve entered that season many of us know as Christmas; a time of year when hustle and bustle can so easily overtake our lives. As youngsters, it was our desires, our longings, our yearnings that became the focus of our lives during the month of December. We thought we wanted, in fact needed, that pair of ice skates or that furry hat with the pom-pom balls at the end of the ties. At least, those were my desires when I was ten and eleven years old. 

In fact, I coveted that hat to the point where on Christmas morning I snuck down the hall to the living room and peeked into the gift bag with my name that sat under the tree. I was at once delighted/disappointed. Yes, Mom and Dad had fulfilled my wish and I would look like the other girls at school who donned such; but . . . the moment of surprise was gone and I’d have to feign my excitement. I don’t remember if it ever dawned on me that the hat was just that–an expensive, fancy covering for my head. One I didn’t need given that Mom loved to knit hats for us.

And then there were the Christmases that my guy and I bent over backwards as we tried to create a special day for our sons. And as we all know, the empty boxes were the best toys of all. 

Now, as I take an honest look at my past and wonder about the future, I realize that my attitude has shifted. No longer is it a frenetic, mad dash for the best deal or piece of plastic. My life has taken on the form of slowing down, noticing, watching, even in the darkness. 

And it was in doing so yesterday and today, that I realized something rather special in the ordinary. 

We’ve all become used to seeing wild turkeys on roadsides, in our yards and occasionally even up in the trees they fly to when danger lurks or  nighttime falls. But . . . think about it. Meleagris gallopavo, that fancy scientific name, have been the comeback kids since farms of yore reverted  to forest, thus allowing these large birds to reestablish in their former range. 

Because I put bird seed in feeders and spread it on the ground, the neighborhood turkeys stop by for an hour or two at least twice a day. 

And they aren’t the only visitors to the feast, for red . . . 

and gray squirrels also take advantage of the free meal. 

But it was the male turkeys upon whom I focused much of my attention for it occurred to me today that they were unicorns in their own right. Unicorns had a single horn protruding from the center of their heads, right? Okay, so maybe its a snood. But still.

As for their magical powers, have you ever noticed that a male’s featherless head of blue and pink and red raised bumps called caruncles change colors with his moods?

Shifting my eyes to the back of the shanks or leg, the unicorn theme was reiterated in the form of a pointed spur. 

The theme again was repeated behind the toes, where a claw stuck out on its own in the area we might call a heel.

Check out the bottom of that foot, its bumpy surface much like a no-skid sock. Certainly there must be more magical powers protected within.

From behind a window in the back door that served as a bit of a screen, I watched the feeding station without disturbing the activity. The squirrels and male turkeys (their rafter ranging in size from 9 to 13 depending on the hour), devoured the sunflower seeds. 

It appeared to be a blissful co-existence. 

Until it wasn’t. The gray squirrel was the aggressor. 

Every few minutes, it took a flying leap and so did the young jakes and older Tom. 

Simultaneously, other gray squirrels decided to show off their own super powers, such as finally scaling one of the poles. Too bad I hadn’t put a suet feeder on it yet. 

He moved on to the bigger feeder–jumping first onto a baffle intended to keep him out. From there, he reached the top of the squirrel-proof feeder, and . . . um . . . 

proceeded to open the cover of the seed tube. 

The interior must have seemed like manna from heaven. 

Into the inner sanctuary he descended. 

His super powers included his ability to debunk “squirrel proof” and perform a disappearing act–almost. 

The day continued and so did the turkey and squirrel activity. And then, as the turkeys were moving away, a healthy red fox climbed over the stone wall, walked among the turkeys and paused. The squirrels again performed a disappearing act and were silent for once, but the turkeys didn’t appear threatened. Perhaps the fox was sated for the moment. 

In the case of the turkey, and yes, also the squirrels, we complain there are too many. But, we should give thanks that we’ve created an environment that’s conducive to successful turkey breeding. As for the explosive squirrel population that resulted from last year’s mast production of pine, beech and oak fruits, the red fox is on the hunt. 

At the end of the day, calling a turkey a unicorn is in the eye of the beholder. But, in his own form of handsomeness, he portrays a similar sign of hope.

As the holiday season continues, I hope you’ll also make time to watch . . . and be attentive to other signs of hope. 

A Bunch of Gobbledygook

Most people only hear “Gobble, gobble,” from a turkey. But listen carefully and you might hear something more. That’s what happened to one young boy.

You see, once, a long time ago, the boy and his father headed out for their annual turkey hunt. It was a raw and blustery November day with snow already on the ground as the two left home and traveled in different directions.

t1-turkey tracks

All morning, the boy followed turkey tracks in the snow. Exhausted, he sat to eat his sandwich on a rock sheltered by hemlock trees. Slowly his eyes drooped, but a sound suddenly startled him.

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“Gooble, gooble.”

Quietly, the boy reached for his musket.

“What do you think you are doing?” asked the turkey.

“Huh?” replied the boy.

“I asked, what do you think you are doing?” repeated the turkey.

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The boy shook his head. “Are you really talking to me? Or am I dreaming?”

“You decide,” said the turkey. “Oh, and I don’t think we’ve properly introduced ourselves. I’m Tom.”

“I’m Tim.”

“Well, Tim, what are you doing with that thing in your hands?” asked Tom.

“I’m hunting for, um, for . . . ”

“Yes?”

“I’m . . . I”m hunting for you,” said Tim.

t4

“Me? Well, you’ve found me. But . . . wait a second,” said Tom as he ruffled his feathers.  “You’re not going to shoot me, are you? Oh, I know–you are supposed to bring back a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, right? But did you know that the Pilgrims didn’t eat turkey at the first Thanksgiving feast? They didn’t have time to hunt. They were too busy harvesting vegetables, learning to fish, building houses and preparing for a harsh winter.  Massasoit and the other Indians who introduced the feast brought venison. So . . . if you want to help put the tradition back into Thanksgiving, I suggest you turn your attention toward deer or fish. Besides, think about my surname: Meleagris gallopavo, Latin for wild turkey. Such an impressive Latin name certainly proves my importance.”

t5

Just then, they heard Tim’s dad approach. Tom went into full display, gobbled quietly, and waddled back under the hemlocks.

“Tim, did I hear you talking to someone?” asked his dad.

“Uh, no Dad,” said Tim. “I wasn’t talking to anybody.”

“Oh, well, did you spy any turkeys? It looks like there are lots of tracks around here”

“No turkeys in sight right now,” said Tim. “But I was thinking–what if we eat fish instead of turkey this year?”

“Fish?” asked his dad.

“Yeah, fish,” Tim said as they walked home. “I don’t think the Pilgrims actually ate turkey. That’s a bunch of gobbledygook. We should have a traditional meal this year.”

They turned a corner in the trail and Tim turned back for a second. Tom winked from his hiding place under the trees. Tim winked back.

And all lived happily ever after, always enjoying the Thanksgiving feast–with fish as the main course some years, and spaghetti and meatballs other years.

Happy Thanksgiving dear readers! And on behalf of the Meleagris gallopavo family, I seek your help to save them from being roasted yet again.

 

Mondate with Tom and Friends

My guy and I–we drove to Portland this morning for a two-hour meeting and then enjoyed lunch with one of his sisters at the Miss Portland Diner before moving on to South Portland to run an errand and finally returning home.

Too much food and sitting time. And so the woods beckoned.

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Right out the back door, male turkeys took advantage of our offerings. The snow is crusty and while acorns were plentiful, foraging for them has become a more difficult task. But birdseed is free feed and once discovered means often frequented.

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That’s OK for now because it gives me a chance to get to know these guys. We live in an 1870s house on former farmland (I often refer to the cowpath), all of which played a part in the reduction of forest land, one of the factors that led to the extirpation of native wild turkeys in Maine. Slowly, the land has reverted to forest, which helped in reestablishing turkeys to their former range. At the same time, our neighbors, thankfully, continued to mow the adjacent field that we look upon, which provides for prime turkey nesting habitat.

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Tom and his brother Tom and his other brother Tom are handsome devils in their own unique ways. Their featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps called  caruncles change colors with their moods.

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And on their chests, bristle-like feathers that don’t look at all like feathers are referred to as beards (by us humans–I’m not sure what turkeys call them). Though some hens sport beards, theirs are not as robust or long as those of the Toms.

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“You looking at me?” asked Tom.

“Yes, I am. I’m admiring your iridescent feathers layered like slates on a roof and those spurs on your legs used for defense and dominance. Do you object?”

“Well, I guess I am rather handsome.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Yeah, the turkeys and I, we talk. We’ve long had a relationship and I truly don’t think you should eat them. Maybe next Thanksgiving I’ll tell you my turkey story.  I know they can leave a mess in the yard and become aggressive, but . . .

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I encourage you to follow their tracks into the woods. You never know where they might lead.

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Following them today led to the vernal pool. Note the pen, my form of perspective in relationship to size because it’s what I had in my pocket. The pen measures 5.5 inches. Turkey prints are large.

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The pool wasn’t teeming with amphibian life yet, but for the first time all winter, it was obvious that visitors had stopped by.

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Their timing wasn’t the same, but the turkeys strutted across, while deer slid and skidded on the ice. Life happened over and over again.

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It appeared to be more than one deer–perhaps a mother and a skipper or two wanted to skate, much as our sons used to do at this very same spot.

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And among the prints, those of a predator, though its journey appeared to be earlier than the deer. Gray squirrel tracks circled the perimeter and maybe that was the intended prey, though really, any of these critters would have made a desirable meal–the forest being what it is, groceries gleaned when needed.

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Continuing the journey, plenty more turkey tracks and then the white tails of deer  flashing in the distance. Beside the trail another item on the grocery shelf–fresh hemlock bark scraped.

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One final item in a different aisle–fresh pileated woodpecker holes. They wake us each morning with their drumming and the sound continues throughout the day. Wrapped around the tree, a vine that added to this bird’s food.

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Its scat told of the source–not only a few carpenter ants, but also bittersweet fruits. Yes, this is how the seeds of this invasive species spread.

And so it was today that I traveled the woodland trail alone after a morning and afternoon spent with my guy. And . . . the Toms shared their story and those of others. It was indeed a Mondate–spent with others.

(Did you think I was going to mention Tom Brady? Congrats to the Pats on their Super Bowl victory.)