The autumn full moon hangs low in the western horizon. Moon beams of light are pouring over the ridge creating long, distorted, eerie shadows as it intersects with the large oak trees scattered across the hillside. Soon, the moon will sink from view as the sun rises in the east, creating a brief “magic time” when night life and day life intercept.
I catch movement on the valley floor, and it’s heading fast in the direction of the oak-dotted hillside. In the soft moonlight, I struggle to identify the creature, confused by the maze of tangled shadows. The creature’s gait looks to be canine, I think. As it nears a bend in the ridge where just beyond, it opens into full view of the oak-dotted hillside, I lose sight of it. No, wait, I still see something. Its shadow is now very small and moving slowly in short bouts of motion. It’s belly crawling! Finally, the movement stops altogether. I know what’s going on, I think. This is going to be interesting.
Time passes slowly in the early morning darkness. Both the hillside and valley have been quiet. The moonlit shadows fade as a low, dull light trickles in from the east. I hear a series of soft, muffled yelps coming from the direction of the oak-dotted hillside. Soon, I hear another, and then another. Tree calls from hen turkeys, I think. Abruptly, I hear a fly-down cackle call: a series of irregularly spaced notes, loud and staccato, increasing in pitch as the call nears the end. This is immediately followed by the sounds of large and labored wing beats as wave after wave of wild turkeys leave their roosts in the large oak trees and fly down into the valley below. Soon, in the low, early-morning light, the valley floor is studded with 75 or more Eastern wild turkeys.
Time, and turkeys, stand frozen. Both sensing, perhaps, that a life or death decision is imminent. I hear a loud “putt” or alarm call, followed by labored wing beating. Then a wave of turkeys go airborne, scattering wildly in all directions. Soon, another wave of turkeys go airborne, followed by another. Finally, I see a gray form charging toward the next group of turkeys. At last, the identity of this early-morning interloper has been positively revealed – a lone coyote. The coyote continues to chase the turkeys around the valley. Its enthusiasm now gone compared to the speed and determination of its first few charges.
The coyote, panting heavily, sits, raises a rear leg and scratches his ear. He sweeps his head right to left as if scanning the landscape one last time for a possible unalert turkey. I wonder what he is thinking. Maybe, if he just would have positioned himself another 20 paces to the west, he would have gotten that old hen with a bad leg. Or maybe, if the flock flew down a few minutes earlier, he would have benefitted from the extra darkness and picked off one of the dumb Jakes (young males). He rises on all fours, turns and trots off in a steady gait, seemingly unbothered by his loss with the turkeys.
Shortly after the coyote disappears, I hear a hen turkey’s assembly call – a series of loud yelps. Soon, turkeys emerge from widely scattered locations and gather in a huddle in the valley. I hear a chorus of clucks and purrs (turkey talk) and watch a few adult males temporarily display their iridescent plumage while some youngsters are chasing each other around. Moments later, the huddle form breaks up, and the turkey arrange themselves in a linear formation, marching slowly across the valley scratching and pecking for tidbits of food, seemingly unrattled by their recent encounter with the coyote.
I’m struck by how quickly both the coyote and turkeys appear to move on from their predator-prey encounter. Perhaps they have no choice, following a simple genetic imprint that defines their actions. Or maybe, when life is simplified down to the basic tasks of survival, all activities and thoughts not related to food, water and shelter have no purpose or meaning. Second guessing, contempt, revenge, bitterness are only luxuries awarded to those living well beyond survival means.
The sun is up now, and it’s time for me to leave this magic time and enter into another world. I plan to take the lesson of the coyote and turkeys with me – move past the conflict, and live life’s next moment.