Copyright Dec. 1 2000 by Grace Alice Moore, LaClede, ID, USA
A Children's Story of Turkeys in the Woods of Idaho
Grace A. Moore
Cha-a-nook scuffed his scaly toes in the rusty dry leaves and thought about drumming. After all, he was a turkey gobbler and he vaguely remembered that was what he was supposed to do - stomp up and down, one foot and the other, at first slowly then faster and faster, making a wonderful vibration on the forest floor, stretching out his neck and emitting gobbles. He thought it had something to do with girl turkeys, but he wasn't sure, he hadn't seen any other turkeys since he was a little turk, only about 8 inches high. Cha-a-nook lived in a big forest on a pretty, steep hill.
He had once lived on a farm, he thought. But that was a long time ago. He remembered following his mother in the forest, to scratch for bugs. They had scrunched under a barbed wire fence, he still had a scar on his neck from that! Life had been warm then, and dusty, and smelling of dry moss. They had gone up, up, up, a steep hill - and down, down, down a rocky valley. It was quiet. The sun rose, the sun set. He had slept cuddled under his mother's wing. Life was good.
Then one day Cha-a-nook had been poking around under a huckleberry bush when something whizzed through the leaves, dropping berries on his head. There was an enormous sound, brittle and frightening, a whimpering strangle sound, and a soft thud. Boots came rushing down the hill, slipping, sliding, rocks knocked loose. He cowered and the boots had almost squashed him on the way down! His neck had a lump in it you could see. Pretty soon the boots came back up the hill, laughing. His Mother's head hung down, banging against the well-worn heel. He never saw his Mother again.
Cha-a-nook had lived on in the forest quite a while now. He had never found the farm again. He guessed his sense of direction wasn't very good for a bird. For a long while he was scared, and lonely. And awfully cold when the snow finally came. He tried to eat it at first, but that didn't work. But he survived.
And now he had urgings to stomp and he didn't quite know why. Cha-a-nook scratched a bit more in the dirt and leaves. Some of the birches were golden now and he liked those. He decided to walk to the top of the next hill for a better view. He did, slowly and deliberately, stopping for a seed or a bug here and there.
The sunlight shone warmly through the fluttering leaves. They made a soft sound clapping together. Cha-a-nook had a visceral enjoyment of anything beautiful and he was dreamily pleased with this moment. He always looked at the tops of the trees first, then down the branches, down the trunk, to where the roots spread unevenly on the forest floor. He was almost down the trunk (anticipating the roots - where there might be bugs!) when suddenly - Suddenly! SUDDENLY1 There was the farm!
Cha-a-nook couldn't believe it. There was the farm! And there were some birds! Birds like him (He knew, he looked at himself in the pool by the big dead Tamarack sometimes). His heart raced, his neck got red, his feet moved up and down. He was drumming! The Indian's would have been proud of him! But the birds weren't quite like him. They looked more like his mother. All of them were hens! Cha-a-nook spread his feathers. He was ecstatic! He was proud! Slowly he made his way down the hill - one foot in front of the other. He tried hard to appear majestic! Almost there he stretched out his long neck and gobbled! Cha-a-nook came closer. All the hens were gabbling excitedly. It was hard to understand, he hadn't talked to anyone for so long. They seemed to be saying "Stay, Stay, Stay!". He was pleased! He was proud!
But no! They weren't saying "Stay!"! They were saying "Stay away! Stay away!". He couldn't believe his tiny ears! Cha-a-nook backed up; his rump hit a stump and he ingloriously sat down. "Stay away! Stay away!". He backed dejectedly under a bush and sniffled sadly. Didn't they like him with his pretty red wattles and showy tail? Cha-a-nook stayed under the bush all day. He was so hurt. Dusk came and some boots came into the turkey pen. Some grain fell on the ground. Then all the hens went into a barn. It was cold under the bush. Cha-a-nook hardly noticed. He felt like a hard cold stone. The stars came out, chilly, but he didn't notice. Then he felt an odd sensation on his nose. A spider? A moonbeam? Whiskers!
Grumby was an old manx cat. She had almost no tail, calico spots dusted with gray, a weepy left eye, and had long since given up counting her great-grandkittens. But she instinctively liked Cha-a-nook and thought he looked better in the forest than on someone's Thanksgiving table. Cha-a-nook backed further under the bush. Grumby scrunched down and switched her tail and looked him in the eye. She would have to take this turkey in hand!
Cha-a-nook was stunned! All those hens were going to be eaten? Next month? He must save them, but how? Grumby questioned him in minute detail. She hadn't watched all those detective programs in the farmhouse living room for nothing. Where did he spend the cold nights? What did he eat? He was glad he knew where the pool under the old Tamarack was. Grumby had thought all day. She wasn't too sure this young gobbler was smart enough to carry her plan off. But he would just have to do. Otherwise all her gentle friends would soon be drumsticks.
This is what she had in mind. She knew where the wire fence was loose. Cha-a-nook didn't remember, but she did. Cats have long memories and Cha-a-nook's Mother had been her friend too. The six hens could squeeze under the fence and Cha-a-nook could lead them off into the forest.
Cha-a-nook was scared. He had never thought about being brave. He thought and thought. Grumby 's plan was good. They could get under the fence. They could get into the forest. But he would have to find a safe place for them to stay. Far away from the boots. Far away from the boots.
For the next three nights Grumby worked on the fence. That was the easy part. Each night she dug the hole under the fence deeper. Then filled it back with dusty sand. Cha-a-nook went back to the forest. He knew a place, deep in a ravine, near the pool with the dead Tamarack. It was steep and narrow, a cleft almost. He stood on the edge and glided down among the mossy rocks. It was too steep for boots and there were comfy overhangs where they could hide. He came here often for shelter from the snow. He was pleased. But he was worried. The hens were used to a warm barn, and grain that fell from the sky, and of course the little girl that played with them. He knew they would be homesick. He hoped they would be happy with him in the forest.
What to do? Each night he went to the farm and watched the hens. There was Penny and Penelope, Sassafras and Sally, and Tessy with the white feather in her tail. And of course Mixi, the little hen who was only half as big as the others. Cha-a-nook and Grumby would talk in the moonlight when Grumby needed a rest from digging. Grumby was an old cat and got tired. Cha-a-nook was worried. What could he do to make his new friends happy living with him in the forest under a rock, where the grain did not fall from the sky but the snow did? He watched them wander into the warm barn and felt sad.
Grumby looked at her friend Cha-a-nook.
"Don't worry," she said. "They like the grain that falls from the sky and the warm barn and the little girl, but they will like to live free in the forest too. Besides, I will tell them about Thanksgiving dinner. And if they don't believe me, Samuel, the horse will tell them too, and Jehosophat the goat, and Mandy the cow. All of us have been around for many Thanksgivings and we have seen our friends disappear in November. Sometimes not all of them. You never know. Don't worry, they will understand and will be happy and grateful you rescued them. And if they are aren't, then they are stupid birds and deserve to be eaten!"
The next night came full moon, and Grumby 's plan worked beautifully. Cha-a-nook led all the hens stealthily though the forest to the hidden ravine. Grumby stayed behind to fill the hole. At the ledge he had to give Sassafras a little nudge, but they all glided safely if a little awkwardly down and soon were clucking sweet sounds. Cha-a-nook felt brave, and proud like a hero! Soon all his hens were snugly asleep nestled together under a ledge.
When all the breathing was soft and even, Cha-a-nook crept out. He looked back and felt a sublime satisfaction. He had one last duty tonight. The moonbeams caressed his feathers as he carefully made his way back toward the farm. There she was, coming to check on the operation. They met on the top of the hill, on a flat rock that still held a little heat from the day. Her whiskers grazed his nose.
"Tomorrow is Thanksgiving," she said. "Thank you."
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