Wilderness Provides Unexpected Surprises

by Curt Kovener

I noticed the seasons were definitely changing a couple of weekends ago as the day time temperatures went from a mid-70’s with a t-shirt while working outdoors to the thermometer in the mid 40’s and a flannel shirt feeling mighty good in the evening.
I had collected some hickory nuts-some from a secret honey hole in the Muscatatuck River bottoms, others from up in the hills of the wilderness. This year they were scarce owing to the drought and early dropping to preserve moisture of the tree. The bottom ground nuts are considerably larger than their hills & hollers kin but the hill hickories have a thinner shell.
One Friday evening about dusk, after a day of sitting at a computer, I willing yielded to the call of the outdoors and sat on the front porch of the wilderness shelling hickory nuts. Charley, the yellow lab, after some time snooping up and down the ridge, decided to join me on the porch, lying down to survey the lake area.
I use some modified side cut pliers to split then snip away the shells from the nutmeats. It takes some experience and patience figuring out just where to clip the shells to cause them to split leaving large pieces for a holiday pie. While it takes only a cup of hickory nut meat to make a pie, it takes about a gallon of hulled nuts to make that single cup.
As I finished snipping on one half a hickory and placed its freed nutmeat into my re-purposed plastic one-cup margarine container, I looked across the lake to see three turkeys had come out of the woods and walked to the water’s edge and were taking their time getting drinks of water.
The hickory nut shelling came to a halt as I watched the birds drink their fill. Charley watched with healthy curiosity but never attempted to get up to investigate closer. We viewed the birds for several minutes and then, almost as if someone had announced “The bar’s closed”, the trio of turkeys turned and unhurriedly returned to the woods heading north through the pine trees. As I was about to begin shelling another nut, I saw movement heading south through the pines where the turkeys just departed.
Charley and I sat quietly as a young spike buck came out of the woods, cautiously came down to the same area and began drinking.
As dry as the summer has been, perhaps my lake is the only water source around for wildlife. Though with hunting season approaching, the young inexperienced deer had probably ought to learn to be less brazen lest he become part of someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.
The deer waded on into the water and began chomping on some water vegetation growing in the corner of the lake. His head would go to the water surface, swirl around and raise with long strands of vegetation hanging from his mouth. Like he was eating spaghetti, the “deer weeds” were slurped and chewed into his mouth.
With no rain falling and all the browse brown and crunchy, that is probably the only semi tender green food source for some animals willing to wade for food.
Charley and I sat mesmerized by the unexpected show of wildlife until the deer decided it was time to return to the woods.
And as he did, I returned to shelling hickory nuts, and Charley, all tuckered out from wildlife watching, rolled over on his side for a snooze.