Six white-tailed deer appear about 20 yards to my left as they pass by in the deep woods by the Red River this morning. They notice me but they don’t seem to be disturbed, as long as I remain still.
Immediately I see nine wild turkeys ambling by about the same distance away ahead and a bit to the left. They seem unhurried and wear that bearing of not deigning to notice other creatures in the animal kingdom; creatures like humans. Other creatures are beneath them and do not warrant notice, unless those creatures challenge them. You are just lucky not to be in their way as they amble on by. You are dismissed.
Deer, on the other hand, particularly yearlings, are like very young children. Looking is their game. Have you ever seen an infant carried in his father’s arms ahead of you, looking over his father’s shoulder directly back at you and staring unabashedly with big blue (or whatever) eyes? You are a spectacle to behold. There is not an ounce of shyness in him, and he hasn’t yet learned a word to say. He stares until you are moved to say something to him. He is totally in command of the situation.
Young deer are like that. They stare unabashedly at you, and they hold that stare longer than you can stare back. You are not beneath them; you are a subject to behold.
I noticed that the turkeys were stepping rather carefully. Then I saw that they were actually walking across the top of the heavily-crusted snow, which still lay about two feet deep on the flat.
This crust walking I had never really seen them do. They were normally too heavy for the snow cover to support them. I have watched them walk single file through the deep snow, one of them breaking trail while the others used the trail. I am not sure it was always a tom that broke trail; as I recall, it could be a hen as well.
I watch one of them, a hen, navigate the snow crust. She stepped with toes widely spread. Occasionally she broke through. She recovered herself with as much dignity as she could muster.
She seemed to have discarded most of her disdain for her surroundings. She walked very much like a drunken sailor on his way home at night.
Speaking of night, I am very much aware of daylight saving time these days. Looking at my un-reset clock, I saw that I was heading out to the deep woods with a few minutes left yet to the 6 a.m. hour; it wasn’t quite 7 a.m.
I thought, oh, boy, now I can beat those turkeys to the draw and arrive before them. Not so. They were prancing about like it was midmorning, and the sun wasn’t up.
I wondered if there is a rhythm to the wake and retire pattern of woods creatures. We humans love to detect a pattern and jot it down so that we can crow a bit about a habit we have discovered in the world of nature.
However the creatures are maddeningly uncooperative. They seem to let themselves be governed more by the weatehr and the temperature. If it is cold, they say, we creatures may sleep in. If it is warm, we may arise early; but don’t count on it!
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.