They Sing

Every morning in the dark, my prayer comes in silence. Or rather, it comes in my silence amid the conversations of others: of the hundreds—possibly thousands of geese calling at sunrise; the turkeys having another of their frequent family squabbles; the robins in their distinctive sweet monotony; the sparrows and the chickadees, each with their own language of singing; the owls calling their last sleepy good nights; and the raccoon silently ambling across the open lawn and slowly up the tree trunk to bed.

The soft sleeping breath of dog one; the impatiently waiting breath of dog two; and the intense watchfulness of the puppy who sits at the window to see, hear, and smell the lives of others, these are the sounds of my prayer. This morning noise is the sound of life, of the world.

The traffic sounds that rise from the valley will come soon, too, but not yet. For now there are just these other lives among us, busily, and with unknown degrees of self-awareness, going about the hard work of living. If they worry—and I think the garter snake who encountered us yesterday in the orchard was damned worried—they don’t sit around and wallow in it. They don’t have time for self pity. They have to eat, and get where they have to be, and find a mate, and feed their young, and elude homicidal neighbors. Every decision they make is life or death. It’s a lot. It is, frankly, more than I have to worry about, and probably more important. But they start each morning by raising their voices.

I don’t know that it’s cheer. Who can say? But it is life affirming. It’s a statement of presence, of vitality, perhaps of territory, perhaps of love.
Life is hard, and may be over before the sun sets.
But still, they sing.

(But still they sing.)

Signs of Hope

I was watching a small drama this morning at dawn. The polar vortex has moved on, the -22 temperatures have risen more than forty degrees, and the vicious winds, creating a wind chill factor of 40 or 50 below zero, have died. I have been worried about the wild animals, knowing that this weather kills many birds, and probably mammals, too. I have not seen a single squirrel in a week, and this is highly irregular. The turkeys, normally restless and predictable in their daily patterns, have not followed their usual path, but stayed beneath the trees where they roost, puffed into enormous balls of feather, clustered together like giant mushrooms.


I put out seed, and fruit, and all kinds of nuts, suet balls with nuts and meal worms, and big chunks of suet in fat strips from the butcher, which I have to shoo the dogs from. The fat has drawn crows, whom I rarely see up close, and that makes me happy. We have springs on our property so we don’t have to worry about a water supply, but still, this is a hard season for creatures. Many times over the past week I thought of the animals, curled up in balls trying to keep warm in their trees or burrows, and I felt helpless pity.

This morning, though, as I was watching the sunrise, I noticed a black mass against the side of tree deep in the woods. Suspicious, I watched until I saw it move. It was a raccoon, returning home from its nighttime ramble. And then I saw a second raccoon, climbing up the same trunk in a congenial fashion. So this is how they survive the cold. I was enchanted. A pair! There will be babies! 

As I watched their clumsy, though expert climb, I was cheered by the thought of their snuggling together in the winter weather. And then I peered more closely. Not two. Three raccoons. Clearly joining forces to keep one another warm. Were they siblings? In this woods, probably. They were all fat, but not as big as some I’ve seen, possibly yearlings. They each perched on a separate branch, far more precariously than any turkey. Turkeys, after all, can fly. And although there was one spectacular slip and fall, the raccoons all managed to stay on the tree without falling fifty feet to the ground. 

I wonder whether this arrangement is long-term or merely expedient, but the sight of this little pack, or family, or club, cheered me and distracted me.  I watched, my coffee growing cold, as they settled in uncomfortable-looking poses on their separate too-small branches, until they each made their way back to the trunk where they had their nest, and disappeared, presumably until night falls again, when they can resume their sociable adventurings.

All is well.

Winter Morning

It’s dawn. There’s new snow on the ground and a fire in the fireplace. I sit in bed with my coffee and watch the turkeys come down from their roosts. If you didn’t know better, you would think there were tall, blue gray mountains to the east, but it is water vapor rising from Lake Michigan, a sign of bitter cold.
The turkeys have come down and are having a kerfuffle, but the dogs only lift their heads. Turkeys seem to do a lot of bullying.
I should bestir myself, but it is too beautiful, too calm, too temporary to walk away. The earth’s turning will change the light, and the soft rose and lavender of the woods will begin to catch brilliant orange edges along the trunks of the snow rimmed trees. The sun is so far south that I can’t see its rise from the bed, only the shafts of orange and pink, as they color even the backs of the dogs. A small troop of deer pick their way through the snow to the open water of the spring. The young dog perks up, prepared to bark, but for once he takes his cue from his elders.img_2976
Now the tops of the enormous clouds are white. I imagine the columns of vapor that must be towering over the shoreline. I used to be in the city by now, amid the skyscrapers near the lake, watching those plumes of eerie mist, fully alert, anxious, dressed in Armani, and regretting having to go inside to my office. But now I’m here. Watching, sleepy, considering tearing myself away for another coffee, listening to the soft breathing of contented dogs.
I am grateful.

Maybe Icarus was a Turkey

We live at Turkey Central. It started out small a few years ago, when we would occasionally hear turkey calls in the spring. But now there are turkeys–about forty of them–who roost in our trees every night, and their comings and goings are part of the rhythm of our days. At dawn and at dusk, you can look up into the tops of the trees and see these unwieldy, bulbous creatures, precariously perched on the tiniest of branches, fifty feet above the floor of the woods. I have no idea how they manage to stay there, but so far, I have seen no evidence of them falling. They make quite a lot of noise, too, which I rather enjoy.

For those pedants among you, I draw your attention to the fact that wild turkeys constitute a flock. Domestic turkeys constitute a rafter, or a gang.

I don’t know.

One of my great pleasures in life is to watch the turkeys at dusk, flying, one by one, up to their nighttime berths. They gobble as they make a running start,  with a long rumble like a B-52 at take-off, and then, unexpectedly, they take to the air, and with a great flapping, land on a perfectly unsuitable branch, bobbling back and forth, as they establish their balance. This takes some time, and it is most enjoyable to watch with a cocktail in hand. Preferably bourbon, but I am not always particular.

We frequently attempt to bore our guests with it, but everyone who witnesses it seems as riveted as we are.

Last year, we had one turkey who broke the routine. Instead of using the little hill in the woods for his take-off, he would courageously mount the big hill to our house, where dogs do dwell. He would get almost to the top, near the patio, and then he would turn and run down the hill, his wings flapping, using the hill for acceleration on take-off. My husband commented on it one night in amazement, and after that the turkey came–this one bird, alone–every night.

I came to think of this bird as an innovator; a cultural leader, possibly breaking the Darwinian bonds of avian technology. I looked for him, I admired him, and I was delighted by him. Then came turkey season. I don’t hunt, so I don’t know what the rules are about where you can shoot, or when, or how. But I can say that the number of turkeys was considerably diminished. As winter came on, there were only about a dozen left. And our innovator was gone. The flock that remained continued its old habits, without variety or novelty.

In my heart, I know what probably happened. But I like to think of him, laboriously climbing the perilous hill, alone, undaunted, his vision of glory before him, as he turned and began the run to take-off, lifting up exultantly from the earth, closer and closer to the sun, on his way to immortality.

It’s spring again, and we have more turkeys than ever. But not the innovator. The flock has lost some of its magic for me.

He was a turkey. And I think of him every day.