Halted steps

2005 September 17
by David J. Ringer

SPRINGFIELD, MO. — While my patient dozed in front of a football game, I stepped outside to straighten up the back porch. As I rounded the corner of the house, four turkeys looked up, startled.

They jogged off into the walnuts, but they didn’t go far. I sat down on the step, and I could see them, cleverly hidden among the shadows and the coralberry. They scratched away the leaves with their powerful feet, sometimes settling down comfortably into the hollows they had scraped.

An insistent young goldfinch begged repeatedly. Let’s eat. Let’s eat. Let’s eat. Let’s eat. Just feed me. Let’s eat. Let’s eat.

Two more turkeys approached from the south, slowly passing through all the neighbors’ yards. One veered off into the woods, but another kept coming. He stood straight and tall, and I was sure he was looking at me. Afternoon sun lit up the loose red skin dangling from his throat. Crock-crock-crock-crock-crock-crock-crock.

Then he came toward me, and I thought he might pass right by. But he too wandered off into deeper cover. Just a moment, the turkey and me. We each had stopped dead in our tracks, and though I can’t speak for him, I for one was swept up in the wonder of the moment, forgetting what I’d started to do. And this, I thought, is why I bird.

The day was cool, a promise that summer’s heat cannot last forever. A gentle breeze reached far deeper than the skin it caressed, filling me with ineffable delight.

Chickadees, cardinals, doves, and robins came and went, and a grackle made a racket in the woods. I heard a flicker yelp, and a Hairy Woodpecker called sharply. A handful of Turkey Vultures soared over, casting menacing shadows across the trees and looking, as always, just a little bit tipsy.

After supper and the evening’s errands, I went out again and sat in the driveway. The bricks were warm against my back. A pair of bluebirds and a phoebe dallied across the street, and a hummingbird zipped across the western sky.

I saw a few Chimney Swifts, and there were five nighthawks, only five. I’m sure there are plenty of good reasons — maybe most of them are already through, or maybe the large numbers condense over pastures. But I couldn’t keep from thinking about the warning I’d read: disappearing thunderbirds.

GREENE CO., MO. — An ivory glow behind clouds, the huge disk itself barely distinguishable through the haze. By the time I reach the driveway, I can see her over the house at the end of the street, enormous, full, the harvest moon. Summer’s end is near. A bat flutters through the sky.

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