Here is an essay I wrote for a little magazine in Vermont called, VERMONT Magazine. I hope you enjoy it!
VERMONT JOURNAL Turkey Time
By Capt. David Bitters
It’s turkey season here in Vermont and I am in spring bliss. The false dawn has brought dense fog, covering the mountains around my camp. It is so dense, I cannot even see my fields in front of me. Visibility is down to fifteen yards and it is awesome.
I grab my gun and my turkey call and head for the high, rocky bluff that overlooks one of my fields. I snuggle into this little mountain knoll with my back against a tree, and listen to the day wake up. The “Big Woods” are just behind me. It is surreal sitting here in the thick fog. Birds are stirring and are singing all around me, yet I can see nothing except the few branches in front of me.
I close my eyes and identify at least a dozen species of birds by their songs. Then suddenly, joyfully, a pair of chickadees comes through the fog and lands in the brush in front of me a few feet away. I hold motionless and watch them catch tiny worms on the spring buds. One of them flies to within inches of me and looks me over. He (or she) asks the question: “what is this motionless animal sitting high on top of this little mountain…?” I hold my breath and do not blink. I am dressed in full camo and a face mask covers my face and head. Yet, I wonder if they know I am a human? Have they ever even seen a man before? Tiny, inquisitive black eyes look me up and down. Moments pass between us. Finally, unconcerned, the little bird joins the other and they continue flitting and feeding around me for several minutes more and then fly off into the thick fog. I wonder how they can see where they are going?
A Veery flies in next, landing in the treetops high above me. Its song is unmistakable. I imagine it looking for insects among the buds and branches, singing as it goes. Across the field, I hear a sparrow. Its song is a trilling vibrato that starts with a single, monotone note, rising to a crescendo trill. I recognized the song but cannot visualize the bird. I settle on a Vesper sparrow, but still I am unsure….
As I continue to try to be one with nature, a downy woodpecker lands on a dead tree and begins pounding away. Rata-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat… It is actually much faster than that, and sounds very powerful, with a kind of hollow echo to it. Sounds carry in the fog and sound so much closer than they really are. The tiniest chirp of a bird is magnified and so clear. It is a treat to the ears.
It is so quiet this morning, especially in this dense fog, that I can hear the blood pumping through my head and I am startled to hear it beginning to go faster and faster… Boom…Boom…Boom…Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom-BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM… Dear God! Am I having the BIG ONE right here on this rock in the fog where nobody will find me? Am I about to breathe my last and fall over dead? Am I having a dreaded stroke…?! Ahhhhhhhh… No… I am not. The rapid blood-pounding sound in my ears is actually a ruffed grouse drumming in the woods. A “pa’tridge” if you’re a local. It is deceptive hearing it coming from the big woods behind me, filtering through the thick, dense fog. Four different times I hear him drum, and I imagine what he must look like, all buffed and groomed in his prime, standing on his drumming log and beating his wings in the air like an engine sputtering to life. It is glorious that I am still hearing drummers in the woods seven days into turkey season. I may be a turkey hunter and a bird watcher, but I am forever smitten by the king of game birds, the ruffed grouse!
Time floats and I hear an odd bird call that I cannot identify… Suddenly, it comes flying right at me out of the fog, rifles past, and quickly fades back into the fog. Blue jay! My favorite bird and the master of trickery! How they love to mimic the sounds of other birds and make up completely new calls of their own. They are brave, handsome birds bathed in blue sky and laced with the edge of night. If I were a bird, I would want to be a blue jay.
Ah, the turkeys! Time to try and call in a “Tom,” the Boss Gobbler of the woods. I take out my wood box call and gently move the chalked paddle over the top part of the call eight times, imitating a love-sick hen. Yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp… Then a long listen. No reply from what I’d hoped would be a gobbler calling back in the distance. “I hear you my love, and I am coming…” I wait twenty minutes and repeat my calling. Yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp… Still no reply. Another twenty minutes pass and I try again. Yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp,yelp… Nothing. I sit motionless for at least another hour, maybe more, listening and smiling so hard my face begins to hurt. At this moment, there is no other place on earth that I would rather be. It’s springtime in the mountains of Vermont. I am in the midst of God and His glory is shining all around me.
- Capt. David Bitters, Tranquillity Mountain, Woodcock, Vermont