Wild Winter Turkey Tales

Wild turkeys live here during the winter months and each spring I am serenaded by males, some of which display outside my door! This year has been especially rewarding because I have had about 40 turkeys who hang out around the house all day long roosting outside my door in the Mother pine or down by the brook. Protected by the boughs of hemlocks across the stream the turkeys hide out on windy days only appearing to beg for seed early in the dawn hours and again in late afternoon. Tut – tut they intone as they appear outside the window. If I am busy their calls rise an octave or two in what I suspect is impatience. “Feed us now” I think I hear them say as they stare in at me with marbled beady eyes. As soon as I open the window they scatter, clucking, splayed feet sinking into the last three inches of snow, but reverse directions almost instantly as others suddenly appear from all directions at once. No one wants to miss a feast! Muted twittering suggests contentment, I am quite sure. But seeds disappear at an alarming rate.

After eating the birds retire to bask in the sun preening their feathers if the weather permits. I can see groups clustered from every room in the house when it’s mild. On days like yesterday with a wind chill of twenty below they disappear almost instantly retiring to the protection of the gorge through which an open brook still runs.

This year I have noticed some changes. The turkeys normally split into male and female groups, each with its own hierarchy. For some reason this winter the two sexes have merged with each group having a dominant male turkey or two along with younger males and females. This blending of males and females is normal in the spring when one or two males will appear with a number of hens. But here this doesn’t happen until late March or early April so the naturalist in me is a bit baffled. Could the bizarre changing weather have something to do with this shift? Last week it was 60 degrees here during the day. For the last two days the temperatures have hovered well below zero at night barely reaching the teens during the afternoon .Could continuous freeze – thaw be responsible?

I have noted other changes. In mid February the males began to develop a bluish color on their faces and their gullets turned pink. The increased blood supply precedes spring mating when the heads of the males are striking – blushing blood red and cobalt blue. The males also started gobbling as they dropped their wings, another behavior also associated with preparation for mating.

Last week another sudden change. One morning only four males appeared tut tutting at the window. After hoovering the seed they started gobbling! This group included the male I have named the king because he struts around the house like he owns it! Where was everyone else? It wasn’t until late afternoon that the rest of the turkeys showed up for food. The next day all the turkeys came together just like they had been doing all winter.

Wild Turkeys were extirpated in New England because of hunting and were re- introduced from a stock of wild turkeys in NY ( James Reddoch). Now they are plentiful. Other sources inform me that their natural habitat is similar to mine with a field, forest, and running water but I also learn that they like mature oaks which is not surprising since acorns are a turkey staple… hmmm no mature oaks here although I do have wild cherry trees, beech and ash.

I have seen turkeys fly or climb into the branches of deciduous trees to feast on buds, and my guess is that they also eat the buds of the hemlocks, but during a winter like this one we have had so much ice that besides buds they have little to eat. They helped strip every fruit tree on this property of berries last fall along with the grouse. Evergreen ferns and club mosses are also foods they like but here they are hidden under piles of freeze- thaw snow.

In the summer turkeys add insects to their diet for extra protein which is needed for raising healthy chicks, so I am wondering if they also seek insects in the trees they visit. We don’t think about having insects around all winter but many do survive because they have their own kind of antifreeze. It was shocking for me to learn for example that my beloved chickadees supplement their winter diet with insects by 50 percent.

The primary reason I feed turkeys is because I am concerned about their food supply; I also feed them to say thank you because I eat domesticated turkey too. But in the end I feed these birds because I am so attached to them as well as being fascinated by their behavior.

After mating the hens lay their eggs on the ground in piles of old leaves or tall grasses ( around here no grass is cut so this is where they nest ). Four to more than a dozen or so eggs are laid and incubated by the hens for roughly a month. When the chicks are born they are already fluffed up with tawny down. Mothers gather in groups of two or three to raise their young ones. Around here I usually have a couple of hens with chicks. Last summer I watched the two families hiding in the hay ferns as they made their way to the brook where a little stone beach awaits them. Watching with binoculars I laughed while peering at the antics of the little ones. I keep track of the number of children. Last year only one was lost to disease or a predator. The year before I only had one female who birthed nine chicks and ended up with four. Foxes and coyotes both use this area to hunt and I also have goshawks who swoop down jet-like to snatch away my songbirds with a vengeance.

This year the turkeys who live here have become beggars appearing at my windows whenever they catch sight of me! If I fed them as often as they would like I would not be able to feed my dogs or myself.

Turkey watching can become addictive, I have discovered, when so many are ready to entertain. Especially if you offer them tidbits. Try it and you will see what I mean.


When I was a child we had 300 hundred year old oaks around my grandparents’ house. My little brother and I gathered acorns every fall creating magical creatures out of them most of which wore hats! During the winter we played with our ‘animals’ giving each a name. We crushed acorns into powder to use in secret concoctions stirred in a cauldron over an open fire. Once we added poison ivy to our brew and ended up with blotchy red rashes on our faces!

We took the old deciduous maples and oaks that we climbed in for granted, taking enormous pleasure out of sitting among elephantine arms – the limbs whose deep green green leaves shielded us from any adult’s prying eyes.

One year we decided to grow our red and white oak acorns into trees. Early in the spring even before the snow melted we picked up split acorns and wrapped them in wet towels, amazed when a single root appeared. Planting them in rich garden soil produced seedlings that we transplanted along one of the old stone walls….

Adolescence struck and the trees were forgotten. It wasn’t until early adulthood brought us around the circle that we returned to search for the seedlings we had once planted. To our surprise both of our seedlings had become sturdy young oaks that closely resembled one another except for the shapes of their leaves. I remember the fat buds that appeared in the fall.

When I moved to the mountains forty years ago I noticed that this property had no oak trees…. As old memories surfaced I decided to plant some acorns like we had so long ago. Still wandering on country roads I spied red oak acorns already nicely split and repeated the original process only by now I knew that soaking the seeds would help that sturdy tap root to emerge. I planted a few along my path and was disappointed. None broke ground. The next year passed with the same result. No seedlings emerged.

I gave up, believing that the soil must have been the problem – after all I had no oaks anywhere on this twenty acre sanctuary. I arrived here with a clear intention to create gardens and to plant trees and wildflowers for all the animals and plants that had that had supported me through a tumultuous young adulthood. The oaks were the missing piece.

Many years passed. As my love deepened for every animals, plant or tree that graced this land I understood that I was loved too on a level I had never experienced.

Here I lived in peace but around me the forest was being stripped. Many of the animals disappeared – the bears and wolves went first followed by hares and cottontail rabbits, mink and weasels too. I still had plenty of birds although the owls were gone. The deer remained and so did turkeys and grouse. Gradually I turned my naturalists eye from animals to focus more on birds, plants and trees… my love for wildflowers blossomed – I had so many!

Oak on oak as becoming… the little acorn sits on a bed of usnea

Change is the only constant, and the year I built my small log cabin changes were afoot. All were unwelcome including the neighbors who bought land at the end of my road. These people disliked me, and in time their hatred became palpable. I wasted years believing that kindness would solve the problem. It didn’t.

The trees were getting older and most were healthy, and one day less than ten years ago I discovered I had a couple of young oaks! One had appeared in a place where I had originally planted an acorn but the other waved her arms with giant red leaves in front of my log cabin – where had that one come from? More oaks became visible as some of the birches died. To celebrate the arrival of oaks, over the course of a couple of years I planted more acorns – some red, some white. All are thriving.

The naturalist in me loves a mystery and the appearance of those first oak trees still baffled me. I wondered if the unpleasant changes in weathermilder winters and pitifully hot dry summers that had already weakened my fruit trees, might be a factor.

Imagine my shock when I discovered that the bevy of bluejays that lived here had probably brought them. A blue jay has a pouch and can carry up to five acorns at a time from a mile away to bury in the ground in his territory! Not even the wily bluejay remembers every move he makes! So that was it. Bluejays that forgot the location of their caches planted a tree. My respect for bluejays deepened. Now whenever I see one, and they are starting to appear out of the forest even though it’s only late February, I remember to say thank you!

Every organism, microbe, creature, algae and bird is working on behalf of the forest as a whole. This is my idea of community! Because of the jays, maturing oak trees will soon be bearing seeds for all, as well as insuring that new trees will be born.

Liverworts: Meet our Ancient Elder

The prestigious scientific journal “Nature” states that liverworts bridge marine algae to land plants; thus at present (science is always evolving) liverworts are considered to be the oldest living plants. Some have a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria that supply nitrogen for both plant partners as they colonized land.

Sources vary but it is estimated that there are about 8000 or 9000 species of liverworts that grow on trees, stones, the crust of the earth, or any substrate that is firm.

You can find liverworts almost anywhere on the planet but the majority prefer shade and a moist habitat.  There are a few kinds that thrive in deserts and in the Arctic.

 Some species grow as a flattened thallus (a fancy name for vegetative tissue) but most look leafy and resemble mosses. Liverworts can be distinguished from mosses by the patterns of their leaves. The former is branched and patterns are formed in two or three rows. Mosses have a radial symmetry with patterns that look like whirls or spirals. These differences are important because mosses and liverworts are closely related. Single celled rhizoids attach liverworts to substrate. (Rhizoids preceded the development of roots on land). Liverworts also have no true leaves or stems. There are other characteristics that distinguish the two but I need a lens or microscope to perceive the differences (carrying a hand lens is helpful). In general when the leaves have segments or deep lobes or no discernable stem then you are probably looking at a liverwort.

At present liverworts are classified as Marchantia.

 The most amazing aspect of liverworts from my point of view, as previously mentioned, is that they were the first plants to colonize dry land. The dates vary depending on the source but it presently appears that liverworts evolved about 500 million years ago. Equally inspiring is that liverworts survive in their original form, having endured five extinctions.

Often liverworts are small only a few inches long but sometimes the larger clumps create fantastic patterns are breathtaking to observe. On a hot summer day situate yourself by a shaded stream to observe emerald mosses while looking for those flattened bright green lobes that resemble  scalloped lime tapestries. 

 Every winter when the snow blanket seals the earth in slumber I repeat a yearly pattern of searching for the most elegant clusters of New York liverwort, one that is visible in my area at this time of year. I am perpetually in awe of the configurations that only nature could create and am struck by the fractal dimensions of these ‘trees’ that climb their elders.

This liverwort like so many others prefers a moist environment and wooded areas replete with a variety of mature trees.

 The structure of the alternate leaves is unusual. New York scalewort like others of its kind has tiny leaves. The lower lobes have the capacity to store water enabling the plant to withstand dry spells for a longer period of time. New York Scalewort has a greater tolerance for sun than most liverworts making it easier to find. 

New York scalewort forms male and female reproductive organs on different plants. After fertilization occurs spore bearing capsules (on stalks) develop in the spring. Present for a period of only two weeks the spores are then whisked away by the wind. These plants can also reproduce asexually by forming tiny buds that detach themselves from the leaves. 

Just imagine what we could learn if we considered these plants to be sentient beings, repositories of ancient knowledge. I slip into a state of awe just thinking about it.

Split Nomad

I never imagined



Betwixt and Between

How can this be?



Sounds of Silence

Soul stitched

To Nature

Cardinal whistles

Turkey Twitters

White pines

Open skies

Winding brook

Waters rippling

As they rise

Sweet breathing


And yet

Tortured body

Still held captive


By churning waters

Heart – less killer




But won’t let go.

Day after day

Here and there

S/he cannot be denied

Sleep without relief

Pain unrelenting

Body suffers



A crimson stain

Upon the rest…


White blobs of

Blinding light

All night long

Steel and eggshells

Rules, more rules

Harpies screaming

Distorts meaning

Dead eyes


Stares of hatred

Absence of kindness


One room to crash

Another kind

Of prison


Even the dogs

Walk on air.

Seeding Up

Every spring it’s the same… the hunger to begin starting seeds. As a woman and an eco -feminist I am convinced that this need to work with seeds and soil is an ancient pattern that stretches back to our egalitarian matriarchal beginnings.

Some of us like me come from a family of gardeners so there is something to say about the influence of our ancestors directing this process on a personal level. Both patterning and ancestral influences seem to work together. Another “both and”.

After I broke my foot last year I was forced to cease gardening altogether out of necessity because I could no longer use a shovel. If I am really honest I can say I was more than ready to let go. I have grown both vegetables and flowers since I was a child, then while raising a family. At mid – life when I moved to the mountains I made (what seems today) a radical decision. I decided to plant trees, plants and flowers primarily for non – humans in a small area around my house. Nature determined what grew and thrived on the rest of my land. Today people call this re-wilding but then my intention was simple. I wanted to give back to nature what S/he had given to me. I wanted nature to be the receiver. 

 Planting fruit trees, creating vernal pools, and scattering wildflowers encouraged more birds, bees, butterflies, frogs, salamanders and beneficial insects to visit my little sanctuary. When i wanted to make medicinal tinctures, I discovered those I needed could usually be found in the woods/meadows/lowlands near my house. But in retrospect I was still just too busy. It wasn’t until I broke my foot that I had a revelation! I was finally free to spend all my time in the woods. The Naturalist in me is finally coming first, and I am taking more joy from wandering than ever before. My primary role today is that of observer.

This year in mid – February the temperatures have been so mild that it feels like spring in Maine. Buds are swelling prematurely. A couple of days ago I heard my male cardinals singing the first of their mating songs. And at the local land trust (MLT) Great Blue sailed through the estuary. Although what these changes suggest is deeply disturbing, I confess that on some days I love the mild temperatures; on others I grieve. “We belong to the seasons” writes Richard Powers and some days I feel the joy of change, on others I feel a great sadness. 

There are some trails I visit within walking distance of the place I sometimes stay – I’ve become something of a nomad. Fortunately, I can find my way to woods that are open to biking, snowmobiling, snow – shoeing or skiing. NO walkers are allowed on the trails. Has walking become obsolete? Because I weigh less than a hundred pounds, I can traverse these snowpacked surfaces without a trace and often make my way into a small patch of woods when others aren’t around. This kind of walk saves me!

The other day with chickadees accompanying me I came across an old shagbark hickory, a real treat. I also found an abundance of some bean – like seed pods that I was not able to identify. I believe they are ornamentals from somewhere that escaped but I might be wrong. When I bent down to examine the pods, I noted to my horror that the 60 degree temperatures had encouraged the little seeds to send out rootlets prematurely.

Well, you guessed it – I had to have them! The seed woman burst out of the ground without an ounce of consciousness… Picking up a handful of pods I brought them back and placed them in warm water. The next morning rootlets sprouted from every seed, rootlets that would have frozen solid last night – this morning it was eight degrees.

Now what? I don’t even know what these seeds are beyond the fact that they hang from trees! I placed a few in my overcrowded terrarium and the rest I pawned off on another naturalist!

I do have wild seeds to plant but not until the snow is gone…

 It wasn’t until I was reading about blue jays carrying up to five acorns in their mouths to bury each fall that I became aware that I had been hooked by the ancient seed pattern! – If the blue – jays are any indication nature has been planting seeds forever!  The animals do it in the fall – humans do it in the spring!May the ‘seeds of the wild’ live on…

The Mighty Slime Mold

Animal or Plant? Both?

I am hooked.

I recently read an article on slime molds that captured my imagination. As a naturalist I am familiar with slime molds growing in the forest woodlands, although I sometimes confuse them with fungi. Colors that are brilliant yellow, sunset orange, or crimson alert me to slime mold possibility. Slime molds grow everywhere on the planet and have been around for millions of years. It is possible to find them on logs, leaves, wood chips, fence posts, compost, bark and decaying stumps. They live on flowers and plants, in the vines of tropical rainforests and at the edge of the snowmelt in the Arctic and Antarctic. There may be more than a thousand species, we just don’t know.

I recall reading that these creature start out as amoebae that live in the soil enriching it with nutrients. The slime molds become plasmodium during the second stage of their lives. Then they act like animals that forage and hunt things like lichens, fungi and bacteria oozing their way along.

This second stage is the one we know the best because scientists use them to solve problems like getting through mazes. In the plasmodium stage astronomers mapped dark matter in the cosmos using algorithms (rules) that humans couldn’t figure out how to do on their own.

In the third stage these plasmodium produce luscious fruiting bodies of every conceivable shape and hue. Please look them up on the internet if you are attracted to awe.

Spores appear in the final stage of slime mold lives. Spores with tiny caps, bristles, knobs… they may have more than a hundred sexes. These spores are carried away by the wind, water, or some animal to create more slime molds.

During the second stage Plasmodium move, albeit slowly. the organism can spread just a few inches or cover an area of many feet. As previously mentioned, we do not know what these creatures are.

Myxomycetes are placed in the kingdom Protista. They ooze and spill over boundaries constructed by humans. They are both individuals and collective entities. Why have we ignored them?

My answer to this question would be that they have no brain. Humans are neurocentric, that is they believe that brains determine intelligence and slime molds have none. And yet they are capable of solving problems that we cannot. This ability is what hooked me initially and is a source of wonder still.

What can we learn from slime molds?

Perhaps that intelligence is not brain dependent and occurs throughout sentient nature in ways we do not understand? Most importantly slime molds reinforce other discoveries recently made. A good example is what we are learning about forests being communities that care for and about each other; forests that may compete for sunlight and food but overall are focused on the survival of the whole organism instead of its parts. Materialistic/mechanistic science still informs us that our forests are quite brainless, even though tress and plants have been around for roughly 400 million years and have survived five extinctions.

The same is true for the mycelial network beneath our feet.

To my mind, all nature possesses intelligence. That means plants for example can think, listen, learn, protect themselves, and problem solve; they plan for the future with or without brains.

Couldn’t slime molds help humans see that we are just one species on an earth that is home to other animals, plants and fungi all of whom have special abilities?

I want to make one more point. Nature thrives on diversity. Humans have a tendency to choose what they believe is a ‘truth’ (usually a scientific theory like that of the brain being necessary for intelligence) and that only humans and a few animals have brain. We automatically dismiss other ways of thinking about how nature might really work. Opening our minds and hearts to other ways of imagining the world might even help us to survive.

Full Moon Dreaming


Wind – torn

Soul and Limb

Mid- winter


Births Light

Brigid’s Crown

Is made of Fire

Beloved Birds

Begin to Sing

Oak Tree’s

Sacred Well

runs Deep

and Pure

Gnarled trunk

Twisted branches

A few crisped

Leaves sway


New buds

Tightly wound

I bow to

this Forested altar

a bare tree

awake with longing

Offering ruby seeds

Tasting a few

Turkeys twitter

My dove coos

Sprinkling holy water

We cross

The Threshold

( my animals and me)

at moonrise

Body holds the key

Rabbits and Hares

Cavort at Midnight

Silver snow


of Ice

Frigid winds

Brigid’s Moon

Belongs to Bears.

Flowing Like Water

In the dream

I stand snowbound

at the Crossroad



a still point


Pausing –

in the distance

Flowing Water


a path…

 Ice, snow and

frozen feelings

are outside –

not mine to own

Powerless in

their fear

these women



 hen houses…

caught by 


droning on….

I choose

to flow

 like water



the forest





ripples –


Golden Light.