The kids in Jim Clay's English class learn about more than split infinitives and past participles. They learn how to talk turkey.
"Got to think like a turkey," Clay mutters himself as he roams the hollows and ridges of the 190-acre spread he hunts near his home in Winchester, Va. "If I was a turkey, where would I be now?"
Tf nobody knows it should be Clay, who spends as much time pursuing the wild gobbler as most people watching TV. Forty-four days last spring, for instance, when the season only lasted 30.
"Well, I had to get out there a week beforehand to amke sure I knew where they were. Then I got gobbler >the first day, and I spent the rest of the season calling them in for fun. They could take away my gun and I's still be out there. I just love to see'em and call 'em.
"Turkey thinks he's so cool, especially in the spring when he's looking for a little loving. He's so hungry you can't keep him away. I mean he'll be thrashing through the woods, just gobbling and strutting. He's so fired up he can't slow down. Then he stops, bang, and slides along a few steps. He doesn't want to look too anxious.
"Give him another cluck and here he comes. Whee-hoo!"
Ehwre were English teachers like this when I was a sprout?
Clay hails from the coal fields of West Virginia, where he learned to hunt at his daddy's knee. The strip miners came and tractored him out: "Nothing left there now," said Clay. "They tore off all the topsoil. You can't find a turkey."
Which was all he needed to tell him it was time to get out. Winchester happened as if by design - job for him, a job for his wife, and mountains everywhere. That's all he wants, and if progress routs him from this happy circumstance there are more mountains still undisturbed and Clay already has his eye on them.
Meantime it's deer, turkey, grouse, woodcock and ducks. And rabbits, suirrels and crows if all else fails. A plethora of game.
Clay talks about deer hunting as if it's a nuisance, something to put up with. "Yeah, I got my deer the first day. Got three, actually; one with a bow, one in West Virginia and one in gun season here. The freezer's full. You need some deer meat?"
But deer season is only the buildup to the thrill of the turkey hunt. last week Clay was at it again, taking a neophyte afield to show him the ropes.
First it was to a clearing among high oak trees. "White oak acorns" said Clay, sifting the ground where a flock had torn up fallen leaves. "Turkey loves these. Man, if we only had an inch of snow, we'd have him by noon."
We sat there and Clay called. Clucks, perts, putts, gobbles, kee kee runs, calls of the lovesick hen, even though that's way out of season. Never can tell what might work.
We ast stock still for an hour, with not a sound from the woods to keep us going. Nary a muscle moved.
Along came a squirrel and walked across the novice's leg . A wild squirrel. These are the great triumphs of invisibility.
"He's not here," siad Clay. "Let's move on."
Down a trail, across a ridge, through a hollow, Clay's practiced mountain-man gait made a monkey out of the flagging guest. Still not a sight or a sound. Then, as we stopped in a pine stand to reconsider our plan, Clay made his confession.
"Frankly, I don't Know where they are.I can't believe this. I know they're in here."
As if on acall came a flutter and a flash. From his roost in a pine not five feet away flapped the world's biggest gobbler swooping out the pine tops and disappearing onto the next ridge.
We never found him, though we searched all day.
Some days you eat the turkey, and some days you are the turkey.