February Turkeys

February with its cold and snow can be a depressing month UNLESS your back yard is full of turkeys.  Yesterday a flock of about fifteen very large wild turkeys strutted into our back yard looking for food.  Since we have several bird feeders and lots of squirrels as well as birds, there was a layer of bird seed on the ground in several places.  The turkeys came in from the woods, fed a while, and then moved across our neighbors’ yards looking for more food.  Wasn’t our food good enough, I wondered?  They headed for the road that ran through our development and I hoped any cars coming along would stop dead and let them pass.

An hour later the turkeys returned.  Aha! I thought!  Maybe our bird seed really is the best in the neighborhood!  After another half hour of feeding, they left our yard and wandered back into the woods.

I made a call to the state wildlife agency and after being passed along to several different people, was connected to an expert on turkey life.  (Really?  Someone specializes in that?)  He reassured me that this was normal behavior for wild turkeys this time of year.  A harsh winter and below normal temperatures sent them seeking food from bird feeders.  They are good scavengers, he said, and would be fine.

After they left, my husband went out to the back yard and put out more bird seed just in case they returned.  They did.  About 8:30 this morning, after I guess they had a relaxing night’s sleep somewhere in the back woods, they came for breakfast.  They are enormous and they travel together, quietly feeding, casual visitors to a place normally enjoyed by smaller birds and squirrels.  While they fed, no other birds came along.  The squirrels, however, behaving as squirrels always do, were undaunted by their presence and scampered happily about.  Half an hour later the turkeys were gone.

February is often a month of mixed emotions for me.  In February of 2004 I returned to teaching after a four-month leave to fight breast cancer.   During those winter months at home, I struggled with depression and fear, emotions which changed for me the day I witnessed a doe and two fawns come out of the woods to feed in our back yard.  I remember thinking that if I had not been home recovering, I would have missed that.  February of 2011 has been dreary,  and I often look for something to cheer me up.   Just like the deer that difficult winter, the turkeys have lightened my mood.

When I was diagnosed seven years ago in October, ironically Breast Cancer Awareness Month, my older sister had just been informed that her breast cancer, originally found four years earlier,  had returned.   We fought together a battle that was won by only one of us.  Since her death, I have struggled with survivor guilt and the feeling that something good had to come out of this.  I haven’t found much.  But then I remember how my sister, after her cancer diagnosis,  would go for long walks in the park near her house even during the winter, and I wonder if the beauty of winter gave her any solace.

On this gray February day as I look out into the snowy woods behind my house, I think of her.  I feel connected to the beauty of the deer and the wild turkeys, the woodpeckers, the chickadees and the nuthatches, even the crazy squirrels.

Spring will come once again without my sister in my life.  But her lesson to me, to find solace in the beauty of nature around me, will linger forever.


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