Pterodactyl-like tracks in the talcum of depressions used for dusting betrayed them. They were here - somewhere. Atop a mountain in eastern Tennessee on a hopeful spring morning, my father and I did our best to sound like a lonesome turkey hen on the old box call. The wooden paddle of the call screeched like a love banshee when stroked against the side of the box. No reply. We crept deeper into the woods and called again, straining to hear a gobble.
The property we were hunting belonged to the church where dad served as a minister, and was used primarily as a summer youth camp. During the other three seasons it sat deserted, save for a caretaker who lived there to encourage would-be vandals to seek a change in venue for their creativity.
We drove up the mountain early that morning in his old rusted pickup. It smelled faintly of honeycomb and smoke, remnants of dad's beekeeping chores. The driver's seat was tenuously held in place with a length of rope that would make Damocles flinch. Dad never got around to replacing the broken bracket.
We parked by the barn. Dew bowed the heads of pasture grasses like penitent congregants as we passed along a slight downhill trail. The woods took us in, drawing a veil on the world. Hemmed in before and behind, I was embraced by ancient mountains. They always welcome me home.
Experienced turkey hunters like to "roost" birds, locating specific trees where the birds spend the night. Theoretically such knowledge will allow the hunter to set up an effective ambush the next morning. We were not experienced turkey hunters, so we placed our hope on luck. It was a good day to be a turkey.
Ministry can be a lonely calling. Dad used to ask church friends to go hunting or fishing with him. Most offered excuses. After years of disappointment, he stopped asking. Guys want to let what little hair they have left down when they get a kitchen pass. Inviting a pastor along who might overhear an errant curse or see a beer in the cooler was apparently too risky.
So he hunted and fished mostly alone in his later years. As his strength ebbed and Parkinson's worsened, he stopped going afield. Instead he played golf with the senior pastor, a friend sharing the common bond of ministerial exile. Dad didn't really like golf that much, but he tolerated it for the camaraderie.
That was our final hunt. We lost dad last November. He spent his final month alone in a hospital sequestered from family due to Covid rules. Dad's shotgun is now in my gun safe, his turkey vest and coat are in my closet. I wear his coat on cold days.Some days I put it on in the closet just to feel its weight; like the passing of a camouflage mantle.
Dad never did get a turkey.