Lime Hollow Nature Center
Covered Bridge at the Lime Hollow Visitor Center

From My Sit Spot

by Pete Angie

SquirrelYellow leaves are falling on the deck, drying and curling in the sun. Though the days remain warm, it is clear that a change is approaching; subtle signs are everywhere. The fireflies have ceased their nocturnal showcase, replaced by crickets that sing to beat the band. The air feels less humid, is even crisp in the morning, and the animals are doing what they must to prepare for when the largess of summer dwindles and disappears.

It was a hot day when my son Odin and I saw a gray squirrel venture down a tree with a giant green walnut—larger than its head— clasped in its teeth. Setting the prize down, it dug hurriedly and buried the seed. I marveled at the way it then gently brushed a paw through the blades of grass to cover the site of the hole. Back up the tree it went and we searched for the nut in vain. When it buried another I marked the spot in comparison to a nearby toy and we were able to locate the cache, barely. The squirrel continued to submerge several nuts in the lawn, coming very close to us at times. The sun shown down, heating our bare heads and arms, and the plants in our garden stretched their laden limbs up the fence. There was plenty to eat everywhere for creatures great and small, but the squirrel was thinking ahead.

The seeds it buries will provide for it through winter, but many of them will never be located again, lost underground to decompose or appear as saplings in the spring. In the gray squirrels’ annual efforts to provide for the upcoming months, they also help provide for the upcoming generations. They will bury seeds by the thousands, walnuts, acorns, leaving eventual forests in their wake.

A few days ago I spotted a different animal on our lawn. A wild turkey was foraging, likely drinking the heavy dew and searching for acorns—its most important food. The large, sleek bird, with long branch-like legs walked proprietarily about. A female, it was smaller than a male, did not possess the long “beard” of hair that protrudes from the male’s chest, the gnarly, bulbous caruncles at the neck, nor the fleshy snood that hangs over the beak. Both sexes, however, share a highly varied appetite. In addition to acorns it may have been eating grass seeds, cherry pits, ants, crickets, butterflies or moths. This inclusiveness has helped it to be a remarkable survivor.

Not long ago the turkey was gone from much of the land it roams today, including the patch that comprises my yard. Over hunting, deforestation and agriculture diminished the birds’ range since the arrival of the first Europeans, and by the 1940’s it held out mostly in southern swamps and mountains. Their comeback, through careful reintroduction, is one of the great success stories of conservation: now the wild turkey thrives in all of the lower forty eight states and parts of Mexico and Canada. To me the bird’s beautiful wings, especially the males’ iridescent sheen, shine with a glimmer of hope that we can alter our trajectory and live more amicably with what is wild.

Maybe the turkey in the back yard was a lone bird, one of the curious outcasts that live at the edges of flocks but are not allowed in. Or maybe it was one of the four adults that my wife Danielle and I saw the other day with seven poults. The young birds, born in spring and able to fly up into trees to roost by two weeks old, have been following their mother’s every command since imprinted with her voice at birth. For the young birds fall brings a completion to the several molts that have transformed their plumage from soft natal down to the dark brown body feathers that will keep them warm through winter.

This morning I want to see the family of hens and poults again so am in the woods before dawn. Setting myself to the difficult task of remaining still, I feel like a hunter. My quarry, however, is not only the turkey, but everything: the wind, the falling leaves, the moonlight that plays on my legs, the acorns that the wind drops unexpectedly all around, startling me awake.

References
Clancy, G. 1996. Wild Turkey. Minnetonka, MN: Creative Publishing International, Inc.
Lovett, W. E. 1989. The Art and Science of Wild Turkey Hunting. Gainsville, FL: Real Turkeys.
Lovett, W. E. 1981. The Book of the Wild Turkey. Tulsa, OK: Winchester Press.