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Turkey Day

November 24, 2010

Things to be thankful for: snow tires, four-wheel drive, insulated boots, long johns, and a down parka. Snow began to fall last night and has continued intermittently throughout the day. If weathermen are correct storms will assail us until Wednesday evening, leaving behind as much as a foot of snow in the valley, significantly more as one ascends into the hills.

Snow continues to fall. The canyon road begins wet but becomes slushy as it climbs. I finally turn onto the snow-covered lane that leads through a locked gate to the wild turkeys. A friend fed them daily all last winter. He started again a few weeks ago. Weather has forced the birds to move from higher elevations to lower country where the snow is not too deep to keep them from feeding.

I cannot at first see the birds but can hear them calling from the wooded hillside across the stream. I watch from my truck. The turkeys move over the water and out of the woods, congregating at its edge. Some wander purposefully across the pasture toward the feeder. We changed the feeding cycle two days ago, setting it forward by an hour so the birds were not foraging in darkness. They have already learned the new routine.

They wait. I wait. The time for the first of five scheduled broadcasts comes and goes. The feeder should be throwing corn to the birds. Nothing is happening. I wait a bit longer and swear. The feeder is jammed.

The closest birds back off as I grumble my way toward the device but they do not bolt. The fouled mechanism is cleared as quickly as conditions permit. I reassemble the feeder, hit “run,” and hold my breath. The electric motor growls. It works properly. As I return to the truck I hear chaos behind me, a mad scramble as the birds near the trees rush to join those already enjoying the shower of corn. The second of the broadcasts begins a few minutes later. The feeder jams a second time. Again I leave the truck, my presence testing the limits of their wary patience, but they remain. After clearing the jam I hit the “run” button, standing still as stone beside the machine. The turkeys ignore me and feed, cooing as they eat. Attempting to count the birds is as futile as trying to count the kernels thrown by the feeder. I estimate sixty birds, seemingly all hens although first year males have not yet begun to show the breast beard, spurs, and facial coloration typical of adult males.

The feeder finally completes the last of its cycles. A small but significant pile of corn has accumulated on the ground near my boots, the aftermath of clearing the jammed machine. The turkeys can see it. One brave hen walks cautiously forward and begins to feed. She is joined by another, then a third and a fourth. I wait until they are finished and have moved away before I shift, covered with corn dust and snow. I don’t care for winter. But I know I have something to look forward to, until the snows melt and the birds return to higher country.

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