done it, Porter," he said. "This is a Vermont turkey, a 20-pound
gobbler, in April. It's about five years old. Now I'll explain how I make this
deduction. I can tell the age from the length of the spurs—anything over an
inch long makes it five years or better, and these are more than an inch long.
I know it's a gobbler both by its sheer size [hens never get bigger than 13
pounds] and by its beard. Though hens occasionally grow beards, they're never
that full. I also know it's a gobbler by the fact that the primary feathers are
ragged and frayed. The male turkey drags his wings when he struts before his
harem during the mating season, and that's what this guy's been up to. The
frayed primaries also tell me the time of year—late April, when the strutting
has been under way for a while. And I know it's a Vermont turkey, rather than a
New York or Pennsylvania bird, because the corn stubble that's left is high.
Farmers in this rocky country set their blades up high when they harvest so as
not to ding the blades on the stones."
"That was the
high point for me," Porter Brown says happily. "I knew that the turkey
worked artistically, that we'd achieved what we set out to do in that regard.
But with Jeff's confirmation of our accuracy, we had also made all that
research, all those cold days at the checking station and out in the woods, pay
Then, with a
whooping, window-rattling rebel yell, the ex-NASA
engineer-turned-wildlife-artist grabbed the hunting knife from his belt and
point-first and humming, in the floor of the sugarhouse.
Yet that triumph
may soon be overshadowed. All of the Browns' carvings of birds in flight—about
a dozen so far—have been connected to their bases by some cunning bit of
artistic legerdemain. In the case of the turkey, the[5/16]-inch stainless-steel
supporting rod runs up through a chopped cornstalk that the bird's left foot
appears to be brushing. The rod continues through the foot, up through the leg
and into the body. Now Brown is contemplating a carving with a radically new
and different support system. "I'm toying with the notion of a hovering
sparrow hawk, wings back and tail fanned in that way they have, like a giant
buff and slate-blue hummingbird," says Brown. "I think I know how I can
It'll be tricky,
Brown admits. But will it appear to fly? You'd better believe it. After all,
Porter Brown did help to put men on the moon.