Once winter subsided, the wildlife in New England went, well, wild!
Outside the window that takes up half a wall at the back of the house where I live is a huge field, several acres, surrounded on three sides by New Hampshire woods. I looked all winter for deer or moose back there and saw nothing. Except snow. Lots and lots of snow. Pretty snow. Deep snow.
This morning I saw three deer in the meadow. A couple of days ago, I watched a fox teasing a snake for a half hour.
The best treat this spring was a big ol’ Tom Turkey strutting around for half a day, on Tuesday, May 24, trying to entice his lady love in the direction of romance. I had my journal in front of me. Here are my notes, begun at 7:15 a.m.:
The hen is one-third the size of the tom, and is being shy. My iPhone camera’s not good enough to capture this. His feathers are at full mast, flamboyant. She walked right past him, ignoring him. His plumage wilted. Twenty yards away, she turned, so he strutted some more. She acts as if she’s looking for food, but I’m not sure what food would be in this field of grass and dandelions. Back and forth she goes. His plumage erection goes up when she’s looking, then down. He’s not moving much, but she’s pacing past him, back and forth. Now he’s approaching her and she’s scooting away. Now she moves toward him, now away. This is a dance. Nothing on my schedule today. I can sit here. I was thinking of going to a wildlife center today. I have it in my own backyard.
Courtship. Now she’s fifty yards from him. They’ve swapped sides of the field. Hopkins wrote of the Hound of Heaven. Maybe sometimes God’s pursuit is more of a dance than a relentless chase. Maybe some people need the hound and some the dance. God gives us space. We move away. God lets us go farther and farther.
The tom is still there, steadfast, and she’s strutting past him. As an observer, I’m thinking, “Get on with it. Quit this teasing. Do it.”
Now they appear to be nuzzling each other, but again she backs away. I’ve been watching about thirty minutes, but how long have they been at this? When I first saw them outside this huge window, I went out the front door and tried to sneak around closer for a better look, but even 200-300 yards away, they saw me and retreated into the woods. This was none of my business. This is about them, not about me. Get out of the way, you meddling moron. This is their business, their dance, not yours.
Tom turkey is patient, more so than I. Is this the turkey trot? I don’t think so, but maybe. The hen’s moved back across the field from him—thirty yards distant. She’s not forgotten he’s there and he’s not forgotten her. He’s mostly still. Sometimes his plumage goes down. When it’s up, he’s tall, the size of a deer or a small man. When she turns in his direction, he puts on the complete show. His tail feathers fashion a sunrise, a massive display of his might: “I’m here when you’re ready.” Now she returns to him. She doesn’t look as small as she did. Has she fluffed out? Now she’s walked past him in the other direction to the edge of the woods. This is a big field. She’s off the grid. Is he concerned? He’s holding his ground. He rotates, watching her.
I’m watching them, curious. Life is not always, as Tennyson says, “red in tooth and claw.” Sometimes it’s majestic, brown and pink, white and black. Ah, here she comes again. Patience. No hurry. Now, he’s fully erect and struts a few steps toward her, then backs off. She ambles past him again.
I’ve been here an hour, drinking coffee. How long, O Lord?
She’s now 150 yards in the other direction, west, my left. They are north of me. The temperature outside is a mild 55 degrees. Now Tom’s moved to the center of the field. I believe she’s ruffled out, enlarged over the course of this courtship. But he’s Big when he displays at full capacity.
She’s now entered the far left of the field and, for the first time, he’s followed her in that direction.
I took and made some phone calls. I did some work on my computer.
At an hour and a half, the turkeys are off the field and into the woods to the east, my right. I guess they’re in God’s hands, as if they weren’t all along.
Back at 1 p.m. after walking. Two toms and one hen now in the field. It’s raining. Nobody is shaking his tail-feathers. What happened in the woods?
Back at 2:30 p.m. after my nap. Two toms and a hen are still out there.
4 p.m. A fox came out of the woods and stalked the hen, but he didn’t pounce when he should have, and she flew away. What a day of watching wildlife, and it’s not over.
5 p.m. The three turkeys are back in the field.
6:20 p.m. The hen is in the field alone.
She’s returned to this field almost every day since, and I’ve returned to this window every day since. Maybe it’s enough that this story about turkeys strutting and dancing ends in mystery. What happens next?
What a wonderful world!