I wasn't prepared for the sight of finding a solitary wild turkey atop the oak tree bordering my cottage in the middle of the day.
Accustomed as I had been to seeing two turkeys on the property on a daily basis for the past month and familiar with their habits of roosting in the tree tops at dusk, I was puzzled as to why this one was now solo -- and not on the ground on such a sunny warm afternoon.
Customarily the turkey will scale the tree tops in order to avoid predators and to rest. As I stepped out of the car by my house I cranked my neck to see the bird, now sprawled out on the tree limb.
I instantly knew: something had happened to its sibling, the male turkey, this female's constant companion.
All day the turkey remained in the tree, motionless, again telling me that something was wrong.
The next morning she was on the ground, drinking from the birdbath, moving ever so slowly. I watched her as she made her way over to the cracked corn on the ground, peck at the kernels and then stand perfectly motionless, closing her eyes.
No signs of lacerations or blood were upon her. I walked down the driveway towards her and she watched me without trepidation, as if she knew me. Within a few feet of her, she suddenly collapsed to the ground, as if too weak to walk away.
I considered calling Cape Wildlife but then decided that maybe the turkey was just tired from some ordeal and needed to rest. The cat was safely shut indoors and no coyotes had been around for weeks so I assumed the bird came here to recover from something and that I ought to leave her alone.
By the time I returned home that evening the turkey was in the same spot as she was when I left in the morning. She was in a calm repose by the oak tree with her eyes shut.
The full moon was already rising and the turkey ought to have been taking to the tree top by now, safely protected for the long night ahead. Instead, she remained on the earth within a few feet of my cottage.
I must have awaken four times during the night under the white moonlight, wondering if the turkey was okay. Finally the fourth time, I got out of bed and grabbed a flashlight to check the yard.
There she sat under the moonlight in the utter silence of night, her small head pointed to the ground as if praying. Her eyes opened when I shined the flashlight at her. I went back to bed, hoping the night soon over as I thought of how vulnerable she was to any predator.
First thing in the morning I went outside to check on her. She seemed even more listless now. I tossed a handful of corn towards her. She began to rise her torso to walk -- and then collapsed in a slump of beautiful feathers, her long legs buckling from under her.
She lifted her head and looked right at me, prompting something to choke in my throat. I knew it was a turkey --but I am human enough to care.
There seemed no choice at this point but to call for help. The rescue came within an hour and the turkey was netted and taken away, to Cape Wildlife.
I knew the prognosis before I called them later in the day. The turkey was paralyzed. They had to put her down.
No diagnosis was made. She might have been poisoned or shot or she had some strange infection.
A huge mystery and sorrow hung over me for the rest of the day. I would never know what happened to her -- or her sibling.
All I knew is that the yard seemed devoid of a visitor who had somehow made an imprint on it.
And on me.