Wild Turkeys
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Wild Turkeys

By Maria Daddino

Early morning might be my favorite time of day, but this is ridiculous! It’s dark and cold. And here I am stumbling around on my front lawn, in my nightgown and robe, heading into the woods with a bucket of cracked corn.
Didn’t I make a promise to myself that I would never do this again?
I thought back to the blizzard of 1996, when, in the middle of that storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow, I wandered around my backyard looking for my wild ducks. When I finally found them, they looked at me wide-eyed with disbelief. They had a “What is this crazy lady doing out in this blizzard?” type of look. They weren’t even hungry and were, seemingly, warm and cozy in their own little igloos, sheltered underneath the huge miscanthus grasses that I had planted by the dock.
As I trudged back up the hill, my arthritic knees buckling and giving way now and then in the deepening snow, I just hoped that I wouldn’t fall. No one knew that I was outside, and I didn’t think to take my cell phone with me. I could just imagine my kids sadly shaking their heads as they read the headlines: “Duck lady found frozen in the snow”!
After that debacle, didn’t I swear that I would never ever again be “enslaved” by any little creature, be it furry or feathered? This time, though, it all started rather innocently. It was August when I heard strange but somewhat familiar sounds—sounds that I just couldn’t place. Could it be “gobble, gobble” that I was hearing? Sure enough, when I looked out my window, two families of turkeys—two mothers with eight offspring of assorted personalities and sizes—were patrolling my back garden. I was thrilled.
What made my visitors extra special was that I had closely followed the story of their reintroduction to Long Island. By the early 1900s, the eastern wild turkey had all but disappeared from Long Island and, in fact, from the entire Northeast. In 1993, turkeys were reintroduced here and, like most of our East End visitors, they evidently loved the amenities of our Hamptons lifestyle.
Contrary to the critics of the reintroduction program, the turkeys made themselves right at home, thriving in our oak forests and dining upon such delicacies as acorns, nuts, grain, mice, shrews, insects, and sometimes even gypsy moths and ticks.
To have these special visitors coming daily to my garden for breakfast and dinner was an awesome experience. I imagined them walking and flying for miles just to get to “Maria’s 1-acre nature preserve.” I did my best to make them feel right at home.
Turkeys sleep high up in the trees and come down just after first light for breakfast. By that time, the deer have eaten all the cracked corn. And that’s how I came to find myself, in the pre-dawn hours on an early fall morning, tramping through my woods preparing breakfast for a family of five turkeys.
A few weeks have passed since that cold October morning and today, as I walked into my woods with my bucket filled to the brim with cracked corn—after all, it is Thanksgiving Day for “everyone,” and not just people—I reflected on the meaning, to me, of this most special holiday.
My dinner table will be overflowing with the bounty of our wonderful East End farms. My grandchildren’s big brown eyes will be sparkling with excitement when they see the great big turkey that will be the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner. I will be surrounded by those I cherish and who are most dear to me.
And as we all bow our heads in appreciation of the abundant blessings we have received from above, I will be most thankful for family and friends, health and happiness, and for the very special turkey, the symbol of a plentiful harvest, that graces my table and feeds my loved ones.
 I will also be profoundly grateful for the endearing little turkey family whose wild beauty fills my heart and whose very presence nourishes my soul.

Maria Daddino writes the “From Fourth Neck” social column for The Southampton Press Western Edition.

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