Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Turkey Time

Microsoft Word Illustration
by Robert Giles

Thanks to YouTube, everyone can enjoy the cluck and cackle (and gobble) of our favorite bird, the turkey. Listen to the haunting sounds of the woodlands - Turkey Sounds.

A long time ago, we were playing basketball on the court in Byers’ Field when our attention was arrested by a short, high squawk, or “putt”.

“That sounds like a turkey,” my brother said in hushed tones. We stopped dribbling and passing and shooting and listened. Sure enough, there it was again. “Putt.”

It came from the north towards Logan’s Lane. In those days, Logan’s Lane was just a narrow unpaved road that led from Duss Avenue down past Hill Cemetery* to the tracks of the Pennsy. It came to a dead end at the railroad tracks. Route 65 had not yet been cut through.

I’m not sure why Logan’s Lane was there. I suspect it provided access to a passenger depot on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Line. There is a "Logan Station" in the right spot on an 1877 map of the Ohio Valley.

We liked to pick the blackberries that grew on either side of the lane and on the grounds of Hill Cemetery, which for decades until the 70s was neglected and covered with high grass and brush. Local legend had it that the canes were fertilized by the graves of the dead. To our unsophisticated minds, that accounted for the lushness of the berries.

The lane and cemetery were also great places to pick elderberries.

So you get the picture. Byers’ Field over to Logan’s Lane and beyond was a lot wilder then than it is today. It even harbored a few turkeys.

My friend had a Russian grandfather that he called “Deedee”. (When she was alive, he called his Russian grandmother “Baba”.)

Deedee foraged all over Legionville Hollow and Byers’ Field for mushrooms (he had learned in his native Carpathia to distinguish the safe ones from the poisonous - we cautious eaters contented ourselves with the canned variety).

One day Deedee brought home something marvelous. It was a large box trap made of wood painted forest green. On the trap was a metal plate engraved with the words “Property of State Game Commission, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”.

Of course, Deedee couldn’t read English (and maybe not Russian either), so he didn’t know he was stealing from the state. I presume he did know he was taking someone's property. I’m not sure what he wanted to do with the trap.

So what was the box trap doing out there by Logan’s Lane? Evidently, the State Game Commission had released a turkey or pheasant and had forgotten the trap (another shocking instance of government malfeasance).

We boys went in search of the turkey that had interrupted our basketball game but couldn’t spot it. Turkeys are wary of basketball players on the hunt and smart enough to elude them.

What is the point I am trying to make? Readers of my post “Small Game” were disbelieving that people actually hunted in Byers’ Field. After all, within gunshot range was a busy highway (old Route 88) and a populated village.

To those doubters, I say that not only did people hunt there; the State Game Commission stocked it for hunting. 

We heard but never saw turkeys. Pheasants we saw quite a bit. Once in a while we would flush one as we walked through high cover from the softball field up to Duss Avenue. It is astounding to see a ringneck go vertical in the air right in front of you. It has all the color and music of a rocket launch.

After a fire, we would sometimes spot the remains of a nest in the charred stubble of the field (anyone for a cooked pheasant egg?).

There were plenty of rabbits – it would have been superfluous for the Game Commission to stock rabbits. 

Every fall we could sit on our back porch and see hunters and hear the sound of gunfire from Byers’ Field. I hoped they didn’t get our turkey.

*Go to Hill Cemetery for a fascinating account of the Legionville encampment, tippling Legionnaires, and General Wayne’s bombardment of Crow’s Island.

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