It has been a gloomy week at the camp, full of damp drizzles and gray skies. The Lakeshore Staff is preparing for rest–that time when everyone settles into homes or packs up the car to settle in at someone else’s home. The turkey and dressing are in preparation, as we speak, but just for a little while longer, snuggle in that warm, soft corner of the house and listen to tales of turkeys past from Lakeshore.
I remember one day when I was out doing trail work alone, on a hillside just behind the Wilderness Camp, I began to hear a crow cawing. I had been working for several hours, with a pick axe, cutting out the side of a hill to make level terraces for the trail, and when you’re alone for a while doing manual labor, you tend be willing to talk to about anything. I attempted to talk to the crow the best way I knew how–by owl call. This is not completely insane–I’d heard from a turkey hunter that owls, crows, and turkeys tend to exchange calls. I don’t know if this is because they like each other or really don’t like each other or can’t tell the difference between calls, but it works. The crow answered me back. I called again, and then I heard an owl answer me back. Then another owl. Then I began to hear turkeys. Though, the owls can make some pretty crazy noises when they get worked up, the turkey is the most amusing to me. When you hear a turkey gobble, you almost wonder if it is fake, because it’s so strange and comical. It’s hard to imagine any living organism making this noise and expecting to be taken seriously. These birds are clearly worked up over something though, and it was, in this case I guess, all those other stinkin’ birds disrupting his peace and quiet. I was astounded by the response I got from my owl calls, so I kept making them. The owls joined in louder and more frequent. The turkeys got riled up even more, and the crows are never ones to quieten down. Before long, they were all talking at the same time. It was like they were arguing or singing or trading stocks. I was so amused by this, and then I heard the screech of a new bird and saw a huge raptor flying through the sky. My memory doesn’t serve me well enough to remember if it was a hawk or an eagle, but for wow factor, I’ll say it was an eagle, the biggest bald eagle I’d ever seen. It screeched again, and very quickly, the crows, owls, and turkeys went back to silence.
One weekend, in the summer of ’99, several of my friends and I decided to relax at the end of a long camp week by shooting archery. Jason, Scott, and I rode out to the Tent and Trailer area towards the archery range, and as we passed the Mudvolleyball court, we noticed a turkey trotting back towards the woods. I was sitting in the back seat of the car, and I made one of those suggestions that you make to be funny, because you know it’s so stupid no one will take you seriously: “It would be awesome if you followed the turkey and shot it with the bow and arrow.” I waited for everyone to laugh at my joke, but instead, they responded with, “Let’s do it!” So, we grabbed a bow and several arrows and attempted to make a connection with our more primitive, hunter-gatherer selves.
There were many flaws in this plan–first of all, the 3 of us probably had about 5 hours total shared hunting/tracking experience. Never mind the fact that the arrows were target arrows with blunt tips and our bows probably didn’t have the strength to break skin, much less kill a turkey. I don’t think any of us really thought we were good enough to actually hit the turkey, so these considerations really weren’t all that consequential. We picked up the turkey’s trail, and began following him with the best tactics we had witnessed from TV and movies. We tried to signal rather than talk, take steps at the same time and ducked down low with our arrows pointed to the ground, but ready to pull up and aim at any time. We named the turkey as Tyrone for the obvious alliteration. Every now and then, we’d close enough to fire a shot which would sail many yards over his head or in the ground in front of him. We probably damaged several trees during the hunt, but Tyrone the Turkey escaped unscathed.
Not everyone was so lucky, though. By the beginning of next week’s camp, Scott came down with terrible rashes all over his feet, hands, and face. They blistered and began to puss up. He had to wear gloves for a time, so that he didn’t spread it to other parts of his body. During our hunt, Scott was unaware that we were being led through patches of poison ivy during our futile hunt. To add insult to injury, the next time we gathered for camp at the Tent and Trailer Pavilion, there was a single gray turkey feather left in plain view. Tyrone had got the last laugh.
Turkeys, they say are very intelligent birds. They are much more intelligent than owls, who tend to get the credit for wisdom just on looks alone. They are among the most difficult animals to hunt (just ask Scott), and you rarely see them roadkilled on the highway. Ben Franklin encouraged us to make it our national bird, so just imagine how that might have affected your Thanksgiving dinner. Would we be carving a Bald Eagle now instead? These are questions that will never be answered.
I remember setting out on one of our recent backpacking trips. We had a lot of young, inexperienced backpackers, and when that is the case, you never really know how it’s going to turn out. We set off down the gravel road on en route to the forest, and in front of us, crossed a pack of Wild Turkey, probably 10 or 12 of them. They waddled into the woods, and we were all excited by the sight of them. Then, finding a good luck charm, I knew that we were in for a good trip.
So, enjoy your turkey this holiday that likely came from a store that came from a turkey farm somewhere. But, smile when you think of the turkeys living free in the woods behind Pilots Knob Road. They are as happy as you and I. And, oh yes, they can fly. They can fly high.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you this Thanksgiving, whether you’re traveling thousands of miles or never stepping out the front door. May we realize all God’s blessings in our lives this weekend.