Sunday, March 17, 2013

wild turkey

From the lookout point by Fisherman’s Island I watch a wild turkey make his way slowly along the opposite bank of the river. The steep incline of the bank is dark and scrubby with sand and dirt and dead wildflowers. The top of the bank, where the turkey is, is light with snow.

I had been scanning the floor of the woods on the opposite bank, about 50 yards away, paying particular attention to the openings between the trees, the spaces between the maple and beech and occasional cedar, and as my gaze traveled right to left it arrested on a spot directly across from me. There was no discernible reason for this—all I saw was a dark blob against a grey tree—but being in no hurry I waited. Perhaps it was just a dark spot on the lower part of a tree, or maybe a tree stump. But, was that a bit of red? Is that what caught my eye? Yes, there it was; then it wasn’t. A slight movement? The red reappeared. The wattle of a turkey? The red disappeared.

It was very quiet and quite still, though I did hear faint sounds off to the east: the voices and laughter of children and the bark of a dog. Otherwise, just the sough of a light wind from the northeast. I stared at the blob across the river. If it was a turkey, he was big and probably facing away from me. A few days earlier I had seen a turkey in the same spot, first noticing its odd sound, a soft plonk … plonk, and then noticing movement between the trees as the turkey, stepping gingerly, moving slowly, bobbing his head, pecked at the ground.

Ten years or so ago, as I began spending time in quiet and uncrowded places like the woods of the Upper Peninsula, I began to wonder how growing up and continuing to live in noisy and crowded places like Chicago and its suburbs had effected my senses, specifically my ability to see, hear, and smell. In the city, I felt as if I shut down to a certain extent, blocking things out as a defense against overload. At any given moment on a city street there can be so much to see, so many people of so many types and styles moving in so many directions with so many intentions and moods; there are bicycles and cars and buses and motorcycles and trucks and ambulances and shop windows and shop doors and people coming and going and standing still. In front of you are traffic lights and neon lights and blinking lights. On the ground are pigeons and pigeon shit and dogs and dog shit and scraps of paper and tissue and plastic cups and paper cups and straws and burger boxes and curbs and cracks and potholes. You’re in an envelope of sound that echoes with people chattering and laughing and yelling and cars roaring and honking and beeping and tires squealing and alarms blaring and feet scuffling and shuffling and high heels clickity-clacking. Overhead trains screech and clack and underground trains rumble and whoosh. Smells of gas and exhaust and coffee and grease and barbecue and popcorn and urine and liquor seep in through every pore. Is it possible to navigate without the senses filtering, blocking, and protecting? How else to keep from stopping dead in your tracks, breathing your last words, saying “Whoa. This is too much.” And the more troubling thought: In a quieter, less crowded place, do the senses, not knowing any better, continue to filter and block? Would I be prevented from seeing and hearing all there was to see and hear in the woods? All there was to smell?

I came up with the theory that if there were less to see and hear and smell that my ability to see and hear and smell would recover, open up, sharpen, and that I would actually see and hear and smell more. Away from the city the blocking mechanisms would still be in place, at first, but with time, recovery.

The dark blob separated from the tree, became a turkey, and the turkey turned, took a step, then another. For a while he made his way slowly along the snow line at the top of the bank. I could no longer hear the children playing or the dog barking. The sough of the wind continued and, off to the south, crows began to caw.

Read last week’s post.

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