Return to the pretty place

By DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 4/14/19

It is only a remnant of what was here at one time. The timber is magnificent and has been spared because the place is wet and access is limited. There are gigantic hardwoods that would rival the old growth of any Southern swampland. Vines tangle …

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Return to the pretty place

The pretty place is seen recently.
The pretty place is seen recently.
DAN GEDDINGS / SPECIAL TO THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

It is only a remnant of what was here at one time. The timber is magnificent and has been spared because the place is wet and access is limited. There are gigantic hardwoods that would rival the old growth of any Southern swampland. Vines tangle their way up the sides of the trees and into the canopy. Huge, flat-topped cypress trees stand in the shallow, black water. Dark green magnolias reach high into the canopy. Their hand-sized leathery leaves litter the ground below. There are massive tulip trees with no limbs for a hundred feet. Towering pines stand on the upland side. There is a thin understory of dogwoods, sweet bay and sassafras. The ground is covered in a thick leaf litter and cloaked in a stand of switch cane.

In the dark, this place seems like a Jurassic World, and I wonder what creatures might lurk here. There is only one that I am interested in this morning. It is the wild turkey.

My pace has been slow and deliberate. I step carefully and make every effort to be as quiet as possible. I have a small pen light in my pocket but do not use it. My eyes have adjusted to the dark, and I can see very well. I know these woods and have a destination in mind. I've given myself plenty of time to get there. The coming day is only a faint glow in the eastern sky, and there is no hurry.

Visibility at ground level is somewhat limited in these woods by the switch cane. I am looking for an open area near a sprawling white oak tree. The ground here is covered by wild Easter lilies. I have been here before. This is the pretty place.

The turkeys roost over the water in the big cypress swamp, fly down in these woods and spend the day out in a nearby cow pasture. The pretty place is between the swamp and the pasture, and I have arrived. I find a nice big tree for a backdrop and settle down to wait on the dawn. There is now a bright orange glow in the east.

An owl hoots from the swamp, and one answers in the distance. A few songbirds twitter and tweet from the brush. The day is coming. I have good visibility of the ground for about 30 to 40 yards around me. I am facing to the northeast, where I think the turkeys are roosted. One gobbles out in the swamp to the east, and a hen answers with a soft tree yelp. I turn to face the east.

The turkeys are toward the far side of the swamp, and I am worried that they will fly down across the water from me. I know that it's unlikely that they will fly through the cypress swamp to my side, but - maybe it will happen. The gobbler sounds off again, and I realize that he is not high in the canopy. I take out my box call and scratch out a soft yelp. He gobbles. I put down my call and wait.

In a few minutes, the light is stronger, and I know these turkeys will fly down soon. I pick up my call and make another soft yelp. Almost immediately, I hear wingbeats and see the big bird coming through the timber. I can hear his wings strike branches as he heads my way through the trees. I raise my gun.

The big gobbler lands in the open area about 15 yards away. He takes a few steps and stops. I pull the trigger, and he is down. I get up and walk over to the longbeard and sit down beside him. There are shafts of early morning sunlight slanting through the woods. The iridescent colors of his feathers against the coppery leaves is indescribable. I smooth his plumage and just sit there for a time looking at the woods and the sky and the white lilies.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.