Friday, April 21, 2006

Big Tom

I was sitting in the garden in the late afternoon sun, with a cup of tea and a book by Henry Mitchell and a cat or so, which is as close to the good life as anyone need get, when I noticed that for once I had not frightened away the turkeys in the front yard. Just to the side on the seep-field was a completely disdainful hen, who took off across the driveway to her friends, and a large, gorgeous tom. I had had a good look at him when I drove in: his head and neck were the kind of garish red and blue you might expect on a supporter of college football, his body feathers were a rich greenish brown with lots of plain brown and black and he looked _fine_.

I expected him to follow the hen across the driveway, since turkeys usually assume I am coming up fast with an axe or a shotgun. Sometimes they retreat with a deliberate but surprisingly quick turkey trot, and sometimes they lose it entirely and FLY, which makes as much fuss as you might expect when something roughly the size of a Norwegian elkhound takes to the air. Seeing them manage to stay in the air is almost as surprising as if they were Norwegian elkhounds; they don't fly as if they were any more used to it.

This guy, however, watched me pretend not to watch him, and paraded back and forth. Every time he spread his tail--a very sudden action faster than if similar to one of those push-button umbrellas--it made the same kind of noise a large fan makes, a good-sized Chinese one with strong paper glued onto decent slats. Then he would puff his double-breasted chest up and drag his wing tips and strut, making sure watchers could see all sides and wonder at the perfectly arranged pinions of his tail-fan.

It was quite impressive. After a while I quit pretending not to be watching him, and he still didn't take off. Instead he started coming a few feet closer - he was maybe 50 feet away--and displaying at me, the first time in ages anyone has bothered to flirt. SWAP! went the fan up, or down -- he deflated in between watching me and the hens -- and then I noticed that the chest puffing had a sound of its own, rather like the one you might make as your father-in-law starts to explain why it would be a good idea to invade Iran. Sort of a choked-off inhale, and probably the turkey was doing something just like that to get his chest right out there.

Asian peacocks, once the fan is up, don't drag their wings, but they do very gently shake the whole tail and quill assemblage and make a soft hissing noise like a box full of soda straws, and I had wondered if turkeys also did. I did not see or hear any shaking, but the inhales and the fan noises were not bad. I wanted to get the camera but when I came back, the whole troop was departing behind me into the woods, making an unholy racket kicking in the dead leaves.

The cats showed no inclination to go anywhere near them.


Norma said...

Well, Tom obviously was so hot and bothered -- and maybe even had the hots for YOU?! -- that he wasn't concerned. A great story, full of wonderfully keen observations.

LauraJ said...

My head isn't blue at all, but I was wearing a very pretty red shirt.

PJ said...

What a neat thing to observe and capture in words!

Laurie said...

That was beautifully written, perfectly described, and thoroughly entertaining.