George, on the other hand, is less spectacular in appearance. He's about the same height as Sam and about the same age. He usually wears faded blue jeans, a flannel shirt and a blue nylon shell jacket. He's a retired school custodian. He has an intelligent handsome face, a kindly expression in his dark eyes, and a full beard. He wears a blue baseball cap too, but it is plain and not decorated.
For several years, George and Sam have been meeting at Hyde's Diner in Cortland at 9 A.M. on Saturday morning. They've known each other since they attended high school.
George is already seated at a booth near a window on this crisp late October morning. And there's Sam coming through the door.
|Mad River Wildlife Management Area (left click on map)|
"I went turkey hunting, George. Had something happen that never happened before. I got lost." Sam takes a seat opposite George in the booth.
"That's right--woefully forlorn and lost. I was hunting for turkey near the Mad River Wildlife Management Area--north of the Salmon Reservoir--when I realized I was lost."
"You got lost? I don't believe it. Is this the start of another nutty story? Are you trying to pull my leg again?"
"No, sir. It's the truth, may God be my judge. Last week I parked my pickup at the end of an old timber road off Little John Drive and Oswego County Road 17. Then I took my shotgun and walked past a vacant hunting camp and into the woods toward the river. I've hunted in that area in the past."
"You say you got lost? How long were you lost?"
"I'll get to that in a moment. I'm telling you straight up, I never expected to get lost."
"You're here now. If you got lost up there, how did you get found?"
"I said I got lost. I didn't say I disappeared. And I found my way out--you may not believe this--with help from a mind-reading supernatural bird."
"Uh-oh, this ought to be a good one."
"I really had high hopes and aspirations for this turkey hunt, George. I had visions of Tom turkey roasting in my oven."
"Lost, you say. I suppose you didn't have a cell phone, GPS, or compass?"
"Hell, no. I was the perfect example of the eastern tenderfoot who thought he knew his way in the wilderness area."
"Serves you right, then."
"This is how it happened. I started the hunt by following an old trail that led directly to the river. As I was walking, I heard a loud turkey cackle in the woods nearby--or maybe it was a crow--I wasn't sure. A cackle usually means a turkey is running or flying away. I stopped and listened. No repeat. So I continued to follow the old path. It started to snow lightly--early for mid-October. No matter, I was dressed for it. I found a spot by a hemlock tree and sat down. I was facing the river and I had a clear view of the field in front of me. I started to call gobblers using my old Strut mouthpiece. Some yelps, clucks and purrs. You've heard me practice--I'm good at it. I heard nothing back so I called again. This time I thought I heard a long extended gobble. I was excited. Tom's don't usually gobble in the fall. I got up and stood beside the tree and called again. Some nice little yelps and purrs--trying to sound seductive like a hen turkey."
"Somehow, Sam, I can't picture you as a seductive hen turkey. Did you wiggle your ass too?"
"George, just this once, try to be serious and listen as I tell this amazing but true story."
"Well, soon enough, I heard another loud gobble, much closer than before. I called again and heard the gobble again. My calls were getting results. I looked around the open field and waited. All of a sudden, I saw a bearded turkey head about twenty yards away, looking straight at me. That's when I lifted my shotgun and aimed. My finger went to the trigger to pull--and that's when that turkey dropped its head and ran. I never got the shot off."
"No, he was playing hide and seek. He cackled when he ran and he yelped a few moments later. I saw him move by some rocks and bushes about 100 yards away. He stuck his head up and looked back at me. Reminded me of a scene in the old roadrunner cartoons. I'd say he was thinking, Your move, Sam."
"Did you oblige?"
"Yes, I aimed my shotgun at him again and just when I was moving my finger to the trigger, presto, off he goes, running through the bushes. I ran or walked for a 1/4 of a mile following him. Turkeys can fly but this one preferred to run. This Tom turkey was deliberately showing himself every now and then, like he wanted me to see where he was. I got winded so I stopped. As I caught my breath, I looked around. I didn't see any sign of him. I was disappointed after the 1/4 mile chase and I thought he got away. I put that old Strut diaphragm back in my mouth and started to call again. Just as before, I heard a loud gobble back in the woods. I got the suspicion that he was running me in a circle but I wasn't sure. I followed his tracks in the snow and went deeper into the woods."
"Is this how you got lost?"
"It was the beginning of it. I looked for the sun but all I could see were dark grey snow clouds in the sky. The snow had let up, but more was coming. I could see a white sheet in the sky drawing closer. I kept going. I never allow a turn in the weather to interfere with a hunt--something to reconsider someday."
"Could you still hear or see the turkey?"
"You bet. I followed that turkey through the woods for several minutes. I stopped when I heard a familiar gobble in front of me. Obviously, a turkey can out-run any hunter any time if it wants to. Jeez, George, not this turkey. This turkey was using me as a playmate and it was playing a game of hide and seek. I was the damn fool caught up in it."
"Turkeys are supposed to be smart, Sam. I don't buy the hide and seek thing when the hunter has a loaded gun."
"I had some doubt too. Despite my doubt, I carefully aimed my shotgun at him. That bearded turkey stood in full view about 30 yards ahead of me. I thought, Calm yourself, Sam. Don't miss this easy shot. But as soon as I moved my finger to the trigger, the turkey disappeared. George, I was losing my damn patience. There was something curious and suspicious about this turkey. It was then that I entertained the idea that he could read my mind. He seemed to know when I was going to pull the trigger. Now that may sound foolish here and now, George, but at that time and in that place I honestly came to believe it."
"If I was there to advise you, Sam, I would have shouted for you to wise up and quit the hunt."
"You know me better than that, George. I knew I was lost when I went deeper into the woods. By that time I didn't have any idea of north, south, east or west. More snow fell. I couldn't see any turkey tracks, and I didn't hear the turkey either. I was in an area of hemlock, white pine, beech, blackberry vines and thousands of rocks and boulders. It was a rugged place to walk for an old geezer. I thought, Where the hell am I? My recent footprints were getting covered with snow. So I made a quick decision to abandon the hunt and try to find the river. If I get to the river, I thought, I can find the old hunting camp and my pickup and go home."
"So after pretending to be a hen turkey and establishing a love attachment to a bearded Tom, then getting lost, you and Tom decide to separate in the woods. Does that sum it up?"
"Separated, yes, but it wasn't a divorce. I found my way back to the Mad River but I couldn't see my own footprints along the riverbank. Several inches of snow had fallen. I looked around. This wasn't the same place where I had been earlier. Nothing looked familiar. Panic isn't in my bones but I was close to feeling it. I felt like the last soul left on earth."
"Hmmm. Sounds like trouble in the Northwoods--if there is any grain of truth in it."
"Not only was it true, but it was a defining moment of self-awareness. I was lost. I didn't know if I was north or south of my hunting entry point. I made matters worse by taking the wrong direction along the river bank. As I was trudging along, I heard a loud gobble behind me. Jeez. I turned and asked myself, What's this? Is that turkey making fun of me when I'm lost? The snow had stopped falling, and this feathered freak of nature was standing on a rock and just staring at me. His head and neck shook, and another gobble rolled out. It's either the same turkey or a close twin, I surmised. Only one way for an intelligent and savvy hunter like myself to find out. I raised my shotgun and took aim. When I moved my finger to the trigger, the turkey disappeared."
"So, it appears to be the turkey you were chasing earlier."
"Appears so. But I wasn't in a mood to chase or shoot him anymore. I was tired, lost, hungry and cold. However that turkey wasn't going to allow me a moment's peace--not by a long shot. The game of hide and seek wasn't over. He strutted and gobbled and beat his wings. Damned if he didn't want me to chase him again. He was going in the opposite direction. So I thought, Why is he going in the opposite direction? That's when the truth hit me like Revelation and the words of Saint John. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock.' This turkey was the same turkey that made a cackle as I left my pickup and entered the woods to hunt. This turkey had been leading me in circles on a rough and tumble chase all day. I ran it through my head and filtered out all doubt. He knows I'm lost, too. He can read my mind. He may lead me back to my pickup truck. With the energy of desperation and little else, I decided to follow this mocking hide-and-seek turkey and finish the game."
"You've got to be kidding...."
"No, sir. It started to get dark about then. It gets dark early in the Adirondacks in fall and winter. I followed the cackles, yelps and sightings of the turkey through the darkening woods. May God be my judge, the mind-reading turkey led me back to my pickup within an hour."
"I suppose, with your fanatical awe of this mind-reading turkey, with all the sightings, you never attempted to shoot him again?"
"Hell, no. I learned my lesson. If I shot it--if it could be done--God would have left me in the wilderness until I died and then sent me to hell. Besides, you don't bite the hand that feeds you, do you? Speaking of food--it's time to order breakfast."
"Strange story, Sam. Very entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe someday you can tell me what really happened at the Mad River. By the way, before the hunt, did you have any bottled spirits to drink--like Wild Turkey?"
Follow Sam and George:
The Mouse with Three Legs
Wild Goose Chase