Art takes life and aligns it, defines it and locks the squeaks and squawks out. Such is the art of the competitive turkey-caller, whose clucks and cackles are sweeter than any bird will ever make.
Don Murray knows that. Last week he was just another turkey hunter, his calling skills honed over years of pursing the nation's most difficult game bird on his home turf in Loudoun County, Va.
And until a year or so ago, that's all that concerned him. Then the Virginia Chapter of the Natinal Wild Turkey Federation lured him in and he got to enjoying the sweet sound of competitive calling.
Murray builds his own turkey calls, little diaphragms that fit in the roof of the mouth and are manipulated with breath and the tongue. He went back to the drawing board and started improving his designs.
Saturday it paid off when he nosed out a score of other Virginians in the second annual state turkey-calling championships at James Wood High School in Winchester. For the next year he's No. 1.
Well, sort of Murray, a lifelong carpenter and pragmatist, isn't funished and he guesses he never will be.
"You can't duplicate what the Lord made," he said. "You can try, but you can't do it."
In the halls and gym and the gussled-up auditorium of James Wood High School there were plenty trying last weekend. Putts and perts and gobbles reverberated off the polished floors and the concrete-block walls. Even from the boy's room came the cries of lovesick hens and strutting gobblers.
But if the wisdom of the former world champion is to be believed, the callers were striving for more perfection then they'll ever need.
Rob Keck of Ickesburg won the world title in March, 1976, at the turkey-callers' biggest annual test in Alabama. He was in Winchester to judge the state contest and to take part in the Mid-Atlantic Open that followed.
"A man can call more perfectly than a turkey. He will make fewer sounds that would be termed mistakes.
A turkey may squawk a few of his calls, but if a caller does that in competition, he's going to be penalized.
"For that reason," Keck said, "I call much differently in the woods than I do in a contest. A wise old turkey hunter once told me, 'There's only one real contest, between you and the bird, and the only judge is the bird.'"
Turkey-calling goes way back. In the old days hunters used wooden boxes, slate boards with cornoc scratchers, mouth horns made of animal bones and surgical tubing. But today everyone works the diaphragm.
They learned to play it the way serious musicians learn an instrument. Their practice is in the field and under the tutelage of wise older hunters. They pore over tapes and records of the masters. And several times a year they gather to find out what the rest of the turkey-calling world is doing.
It's their social hour and a lot is accomplished, because in a month's time these hunters will be back to solitary pursuits. Turkey hunting is no group sport.
While much of their talk is idle gab, at least as much is gobble-gobble.
Turkey hunters can even carry on conversations in tongue. Keck's translations:
CLUCK - Simple call that indicates all is well. Hens cluck all day.
PUTT - Single-sounding call that means "Where are you?" or "Are you still there? Show yourself."
KEE KEE - The lost call a young turkey uses to call the hen or another young gobbler. Very shrill, sounds like a child's cry or the yip of a terrier.
GOBBLE - The springtime attracting call the male turkey uses to call a hen. There is also alost youngster's gobble in the fall, to get the mother hen's attention.
YELP - A call hens and gobblers use for a variety of meanings. It can be a young hen's mating call or an old hen's effort to gather her young.
These are basics. There are hundreds more, each with its own surmised meaning. Any turkey hunter would be delighted to tell anyone all about it, day or night, anytime but turkey season.
The Virginia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, like the population of turkeys themselves in the Old Dominion, is booming.
The club was founded in 1975 with about 125 members: today it numbers 2,700 in five local chapters. Interested? The local outfit is the Bull Run Chapter. Contact Mike Gardell at 281-3657.