It’s Merriam’s. Not Merriam. I’m amazed how many get it wrong. It’s named after a Clinton Hart Merriam, first chief of the US Biological Survey and a master zoologist. He was a naturalist, an afflicted soul, a turkey hunter, and now he’s immortalized forever.
The Merriam’s a cousin to the Gould’s. One’s American; one’s Mexican, trying to make a comeback as an American. Their chosen homes are the mountains, where the environment is harsh, the terrain hard. Merriam’s themselves can be found in pockets throughout the Mountain West. Majestic landscapes there are so quiet, so soul-stirring, but are ready to test your fortitude.
The Merriam finds those ridge fingers extending out into the canyons. He calls, Come get me if you can. He encourages you to come find him with every insistent gobble. Even his hens seem to beckon. Come here. It’s nice up here, she promises. My affliction forces me to go to him. As I stare up the canyon wall, I know that it will feel like a lifetime between me and him. As I start upward, foot over foot, my senses are awakened, bolstered by a lifetime of experiences and memories.
Merriam’s country invokes a sense of past, a sense of home. Everything calls to the senses. To me, the smell of crisp Ponderosa instantly invokes a sense of belonging. The scent of the Ponderosa Pine flatwoods mixes with Cedar and White Pines. A unique lemon effervescence buries itself in my psyche. It takes me back to my childhood. Instantly, I’m back in the mountains of South Africa where pines darken hillsides and cedars dot the fringes of meadows.
This turkey’s gobbles ring out across canyons, and the present comes rushing back, stirring my blood and tickling the hunting disease that has pulled me here, so far from home. The sounds reverberate against the canyon walls. Ventriloquism is his forte, making me question location and position. Am I where I need to be?
Insistence. His insistence is my beckoning. Insistence captures his desire for me to come to him. The closer I get, the more he convinces me he is coming down to the left. No, to the right. I swing my gun back and forth in anticipation. Time stands still. I push uphill, ever further uphill. My heartbeat echoes ever louder in my ears.
Ever higher. Ever closer. Higher. Higher. I struggle to pause. Struggle to hear. The constant drumming on both fronts tunes out what I need to hear. It echoes in my ears. Thumping in my chest.
I belly crawl. Inching closer to the summit, I gather my knees underneath me and slide my head over the edge. I can feel the drumming in my chest, as it heaves up and down. Exhaustion and unfettered enthusiasm fight for control of my body.
The brightness of the Merriam’s red is in stark contrast to the alpine green surrounding him. The vivacity can only be described as incessant. Mad. Malevolent. All of the effort for this moment of clarity. Bearing down on the red is all I see. It will be all I remember. The unmistakable sound of wings beating dirt reaches me as I roll onto my back. My eyes close in ecstasy, chest heaving with adrenaline as the mountain pervades my being. I smile, the irremovable smile, looking to the heavens. My response to my companions question is simple, “Did I get him?” The photographs capture the moment, the surroundings, the bird’s ivory-tipped fan. This mountain memory will not soon be forgotten. It’s a memory that will form the experience needed for the next mournful gobble that reignites the affliction all over again.
Robbie Kröger – residing in Mississippi, Robbie grew up in South Africa surrounded by hunting stories of yesteryear from South Africa, Mocambique, Germany, Manchuria, and Siberia of his father and grandfather.