[Note: Between urgent garden chores and allergy medication, I just couldn’t get my act together this week to write something new. (Shakes finger: Bad Sheila, bad, bad Sheila.) However, I hope you’ll enjoy a repeat of last year’s post.]
Last week I had taken a break from putting in the tomato plants to have some lunch out in the screened porch. Just as I finished looking through a magazine and drained my iced coffee to get back to work, I glanced out the
window to see seven wild turkeys sashaying through the side yard between the porch and the forsythia. While I watched, they ambled toward the balsam fir in the back yard, pausing here and there to scratch in last year’s leaf litter. I figured, OK, they’re beautiful and this is pretty cool, but I don’t want them discovering the young peas in the veggie garden. So I went out the front door because Gracie was in the greenhouse, and there ensued the sort of chance encounter with the wild kingdom that your neighbors put on America’s Funniest Home Videos if they are mercenary and have a camera handy.
“Shoo!” I said, clapping my hands. No response, not even a glance. I walked past the great room, heading up the path between the gardens to get behind the turkeys and turn them back toward the road. “SHOO!” Clap, clap, arm waving, etc.
Two of the birds picked up their pace and race-walked toward the woods out back. The other five stopped in their tracks, looked at me, then at each other, and basically shrugged. (Flashback here to my teaching days: It looked exactly like my freshmen thinking, Yeah, whatever, lady, when I was trying to explain–yet again–why LOL doesn’t belong in the final draft of a research paper.) The turkeys went back to feeding.
By then, I was around the back corner of the flower bed, shooing and flapping, about a dozen feet away from them. And do you know, turkeys are really quite large? Very tall, up close, with beaks that could do some damage, and chicken feet on steroids, 4 inches long and as wide. It dawned on even me to wonder whether they were just stupid, or so secure in their own martial arts skills that humans don’t faze them. Finally they turned and started moving, slowly at first, then trotting, then breaking into a flat-out sprint back toward the road, with me in hot pursuit, flapping and shooing the whole way.
Whereupon the two birds that had gone toward the woods returned, taking to the air–oh, yeah, they fly, don’t they?–to buzz me like stealth Air Force jets, protecting the flock, I guess. It worked. I hit the deck, they cleared my airspace, and the birds crossed the quiet road into the woods on the other side.
I got up slowly, whacking mud and grass clippings off my clothes, and glared at Gracie, who was staring at me from the greenhouse, her eyes as big as saucers. “A little help would have been appreciated, you know! You yowl at hummingbirds! But when your mother gets attacked by wild turkeys, you don’t say a word?! Thanks!”
My cat blinked, meowed softly, and curled up in her chair to resume her interrupted nap, taking the not unreasonable view that if I could still yell at her, I must be all right. I stood there, wiping moss from my eyebrows, and reflected that she probably was right. It had been just another one of the chance encounters that make living in the country such an interesting experience.
Over the years I’ve had many of these moments, all enlightening and some quite wonderful. There was Bandit, for instance, a raccoon who became a regular masked thief of the sunflower seed in my bird feeders. She would come near sunset of a summer evening, and I would stand out in the porch, watching her clean up whatever seed was left after the birds and squirrels had gotten their share all day. We got accustomed to spending the last few minutes of the fading day in companionable silence. From about eight feet away, she was beautiful, the silver grizzled fur around her black mask giving her a distinctly gentle expression. One night I was eating a granola bar. On impulse, I asked quietly, “Would you like a piece of my cookie?” She looked up at me.
I eased the screen up as slowly as I could not to startle her. Bandit retreated around the other side of the tree trunk, peering at me through the screen of sweet williams that have seeded themselves there. I let the granola bar fall from my fingers, put the screen down, and waited. Cautiously, the raccoon waddled closer, sniffed, and discovered that honey oat granola bars are pretty darned good. Thereafter it became a routine, and one night instead of dropping the cookie for her to retrieve, I leaned far out the window and held it out to her. Delicately she reached with both front paws and took the offering from my hands. It was magical.
I’m aware that I often live in my own little dream world about encounters with the Wild. I’m a fantasy writer, after all, and I’d rather believe in Redwall Abbey than in the often harsh realities of Wild Kingdom. But the truth of rural living is that even though I am kindly inclined toward the various other denizens of this habitat and would like to believe that they know this, it’s a potentially dangerous assumption. The fox I admire as it sits atop a rock wall to watch me pass on my morning walk is also the one who kills my hens if she can, whom I then chase into the woods in anger when I catch her returning for another snatched meal. What if she turned to defend her kill or her kits? Bandit herself might have misinterpreted my movements as I tossed her a cookie, and clawed or bitten my hand. Even squirrels can and will attack, though when I once inadvertently disturbed a female that had nested in one of my bird houses, she only peed on me, following the warm dousing with a good piece of her mind in a shrill chitter as I beat a hasty retreat into the house.
My head knows that any animal can carry rabies, raccoons, foxes, and skunks being particular vectors for the disease in this area. Wild birds can transmit viruses, the deer I admire when they browse the cedar out back host the ticks that carry Lyme disease. So, yes, I understand intellectually that I should be more prudent around the wild ones. But my heart still wants to believe that there can be peace between us. If a turkey wants to look me in the eye or a raccoon reaches out her hand to me or five little skunks tumble out from under the great room, I’m going to welcome the encounter every time.
Well, almost every time. I could have done without that squirrel pee.
turkey photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/2980612155″>2008 Appalachian Autumn 91</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
raccoon photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/5835439115″>Concentration</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
fox photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/14029445637″>Red Fox</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>