Throughout my academic career I was lucky enough to have some great language teachers -- if nothing else, I got pretty darn good at speaking Spanish.
Even now, some three or four decades later, I am surprised by just how much Spanish I remember when put in a situation in which it comes in handy. When I take trips to Costa Rica or Mexico or if I'm simply trying to convey a message to a Hispanic worker I have hired to do some painting, I get a real feeling of accomplishment when whomever I am talking to understands me.
But there is one language that still causes me problems: turkey talk.
By the time you read this, the 2014 wild turkey season will be in full swing and, though I don't plan on going turkey hunting all that much, I found myself dusting off my turkey calls yesterday. As I walked around the house, I practiced everything from a putt to a yelp and even threw in a few purrs. I was surprised just how far these sounds carried, especially since most all the doors and windows were closed.
Why do I know this? There aren't any gobblers within earshot of my house, but I'll be darned if every dog within a three-block radius of me wasn't howling to beat the band every time I stroked that call.
I started turkey hunting long before it became "the thing to do." With a somewhat addictive personality, I would chase turkeys before work every day of the season, which lasts just about two and a half months.
It wasn't shooting a turkey that kept me going back day after day, it was the spring woods that had me mesmerized. So that you have some idea what kind of habitat wild turkeys prefer, they love to hang near swamps with hardwood ridges nearby. Depending on the year and how much rain we've had, certain plants will pop up during the turkey season and as the days and weeks pass, the trees sprout new growth with shades of green that I find hard to describe.
Combined with a warm spring breeze and wild dogwoods dotting the landscape, there is no more beautiful or peaceful place to be on this earth.
For the most part, the golden rule in turkey hunting is to be in place and set up when the sun begins to edge over the horizon. Flashlights are a no-no, so walking through a pitch-black swamp before daylight is a real trip -- both literally and figuratively. It can be rather spooky when you are walking along and startle a deer or wild pig, and they go crashing through the woods darn near causing a coronary -- or on the literal side, you go crashing to the ground when you trip over a vine.
But it's worth it.
Finding a large tree in a somewhat open area, you adjust all your camouflage and sit on the ground with your back against the tree. Believe it or not, noise doesn't bother a turkey one bit -- nor does smell. It's movement that will make your trek a total waste of time. Even the subtlest movement can be detected, and from experience, a turkey that bolts looks to me like a leprechaun running through the woods. But if you are able to put yourself in a meditative trance of sorts, the rewards are amazing.
Other than a big mature gobbler all puffed up, fan fully deployed and wings dragging on the ground with the sun turning its feathers into golden rainbows, you have the chance to see things that a National Geographic photographer would pay a year's wages to experience.
I have had foxes and bobcats within an arm's reach, a raccoon crawling up the tree inches from my head on his way back home after a night of foraging -- plus hundreds of other encounters. All of these sights are possible, but only if you are one with the woods. It took me years to perfect the art of taking myself into this place of total peace.
I have bagged many a gobbler over the years and, quite frankly, it wouldn't bother me if I never took another bird. But being able to talk the talk and having these spectacular birds front and center is what it is all about.
Believe me when I say it's the greatest show on earth.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.