By Diane Patricia Barrett, Becketwood Member
…it was probably a gray fox. I knew it wasn’t a dog, and I knew (mostly) that it wasn’t an apparition, and it was, well, otherworldly given its appearance right in the heart of the city. And the way that its singular, muscular gray body tore through the bushes coming up from the river onto the parking lot that one day a year ago when I was walking, well, I can be forgiven, can’t I, for thinking that it was from a remote place, maybe even a timeless place?
I have come to this conclusion because of what I witnessed one Sunday morning recently. I was looking out my living room window onto a large garden area below, when I had the same startled response I had had a year ago; I saw it, the same bulky, muscular gray body streak away from the bushes it was sniffing, no doubt reconnoitering the rabbit residences in the area. Did I really see it? It was gone in a flash, and I was still partially in the dream world. Yes, I did; confirmation from a neighbor tells me so, but wanting confirmation is only an exercise of the mind’s cautionary doubting; gray fox or not, I knew that I had been present for a momentary visitation from beyond the ordinary.
What I also saw a few days later on the grounds was a pile of turkey feathers, not a fallen wing feather here and there, but the aftermath of a major plucking event by a sufficiently formidable prowler having the capacity to take down a large, meaty wild turkey.
I had not yet seen this pile of feathers, though, as I was walking earlier; no, what I saw first was a grassy fluttering, hardly noticeable, amid the trees. When I got a little closer I realized that the gentle disturbance of the grass was the playful flurry of eight or nine fluffy, very tiny, turkey chicks, the innocence and exuberance of new life happening right there in front of me. Talk about spirits being lifted, my flagging spirits were lifted big time in an instant as I came upon this unexpected celebration. As I write this, my heart feels achingly big, big with delight, but also big with sadness in anticipation of what was to come.
Boy, those baby chicks can boogie, amazing given their wee little skinny legs that look as though they could hardly hold up a blade of grass, let alone scamper full throttle into the nearby bushes, which is what they did. They went en masse, no laggards, following some kind of instinctual directive, I guess, initiated by what, who knows. It was at this point that the thought came to me that I had not seen the mamma, rather unusual; the mamma is always close by, watching for potential danger, teaching the ways of wild turkey life, coaxing the shy chicks, scolding those of a wayward disposition. I began to feel an inkling of dread, always held in reserve, beginning to inch its way forward.
I continued walking around the grounds, savoring the sweet summer breeze, the area of native flowers and green growth, the squirrels going about their busy business, the buzz of insects and bees, bird call and response, in other words, the ordinary business of living. I did wander through the bushes where the baby chicks were taking shelter, still feeling a niggling of apprehension, but they were well hidden, and I didn’t want to scare them anyway.
Continuing my late afternoon walk, it was then that I came upon the pile of turkey feathers. No carcass, just the generous bundle that was obviously the remnants of mamma turkey. Oh boy, this is not good; I kept seeing the sweet innocence of those babes. Sure, it could be that the gray fox who I’m convinced was the culprit, took the de-feathered mama carcass to her den to feed her own babies...and, sure, the sight that I once had of a red fox streaking across the lawn of one of those mansions on Summit Avenue with a rabbit in its mouth, the legs pitifully dangling, was surely awesome in its own way, the usually elusive fox in plain view, so self-assured of its power and purpose...but still, those fuzzy balls of eager new life.
In the next day or two, I hoped fervently that a stray turkey hen would come along and foster the chicks; they sometimes do that, I’ve been told. I soon despaired, however, when I saw several large black birds, the ones who make those ominous, piercing cawing sounds, perched in the tree near the bushy enclosure to which the chicks had previously retreated. It was clear what they were there for.
So, their lives hardly having begun, this is the way it ended for the chicks, the kind of ending that is routinely repeated over and over again in the course of a day in this world. The way of life--for some, sadly, much sooner than for others. For the survivors, except for the human sort, no survivor’s guilt, just the instinctive desire to move full throttle into the expression of the life that has been given. This is the bitter-sweet truth of it.