Two turkey toms greet me as I settle in by the Red River. They are braving the cold.

They appear not more than a dozen feet to my left, browsing about in the light snow cover on the ground. They obviously know of my presence but don’t mind my being nearby, as long as I remain still.

I have to admit, I am not sitting out in the cold with bare fingers. I must tolerate the warmth of a car in order to keep those fingers working. It is minus 6 degrees and so far only those two toms and red squirrel have appeared. Oh yes, and American crow sailed by over the tree tops to my left a short time ago. It amazes me how these creatures tolerate this cold.

I’ve studied these wild turkeys for nearly a decade now and still so many things about them remain a mystery to me, particularly how they lodge or roost or bed down at night. And now I have so much more to learn about how they tolerate the severe cold.

These few who remain near me now give me a chance to look at them more closely. Three more toms join the first two. They share something of interest on the ground.

Quite obviously they fluff up their feathers, which gives them a larger appearance. Also I’m sure that helps to insulate their bodies. It is interesting how the skins and muscles on birds are able to control this fluffing.

They tend to “look” at me, standing sideways, as if they cannot look at me out of two sides of their heads at one time. I am not sure if this “two sides” idea of mine is true or if it is only that they prepare for a quick departure, if necessary.

Deer, I have noticed, often stand looking at me with their noses pointed directly toward me, as if looking at me with both eyes. But I suspect they are “looking” at me with their ears, both ears being cocked directly toward me (if you will pardon me mixing the eyes and the ears for a moment).

I notice when the turkey toms stand sideways near me in this very severe cold, they seem to shiver a little. Is this really so, or am I adding a human response to them?

A doe appears directly ahead of me, about 50 yards away, with two yearlings trotting along amiably behind her. Now a third yearling joins them, followed by another doe.

The does  seem obviously aware of me. The yearlings — eh, maybe so, maybe not. Are they taught to be aware of potential danger by some signal we can’t hear? Maybe they do notice but they are sometimes too busy frisking to care. As long as Mom is up ahead, all the world seems on their side.

They cross by my line of vision and disappear into the forest in the direction of the low-hanging afternoon winter sun. The quiet of the winter afternoon settles about me.

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.


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