Friday, November 19, 1999
It was understandable when voters at the November 2 Town Meeting gave a thumbs down to the proposal to buy the old Saint Irene Church on Bedford Road. These are not the easiest financial times for the town to be expending money for property, especially when there is no designated use for that property. It was ironic, though, to read just days later in the Boston Globe's Northwest Weekly section that our neighbor Westford had rallied to "give (an) old church new life as (a) community arts center." Purchased by the town's historical society through privately raised funds, the old Union Congregational Church building is already fully booked on weekends, afternoons and evenings with an agenda that includes concerts, films, children's crafts classes and exhibitions. Not so remarkably, one of the most popular uses has been as a teen center. Recent teen coffeehouses have drawn more than 100 young people, and artistic teens are using the space to perform and exhibit their artwork.
What appealed to me most about Westford's achievement was the level of community involvement in the project, from fundraising to sweat equity in restoring the old building. Local high school students volunteered their time to clean, paint and landscape the building last spring; the technical high school is installing a handicapped-accessible bathroom. And the age range of those committed to the project runs from young students to senior citizens. The whole project sounded like past Carlisle endeavors that have brought us together as a town, and I felt a little envious.
The other night, when I drove past Carlisle's empty church and saw lights in it for the first time in months, I was reminded what a vital property it still is. I wish we could have come up with a community use for it; so many of us might have benefited in so many ways.
We have the good fortune to live next door to interesting neighbors. Hardly a month goes by without the sounds of hammering and chain sawing, the rustle of activity floating through the trees that divide our yards. Still, even we were startled this past spring when, walking along the woodland path that separates our lots, we were surprised by a raucous brood of turkey chicks dashing through the pale green leaves.
It wasn't immediately clear whose turkeys these chicks belonged to. Last year we were charmed by three wild turkey hens picking a delicate path across our lawn. We discovered them roosting high in nearby pines at sunset; at dawn they would glide down to our lawn to begin their daily peregrinations.
These wild turkeys were enormous birds, with dark, metallic feathers, large in the body, small in the head. Our cat, whose eye for moving prey is unmatched, sat safely on the porch when these matrons sauntered past. Whereas bears may knock over bee hives, deer eat rhododendrons, and raccoons raid the compost pile, these stately fowl rid the lawn of grubs. Like pheasants, they make an estate of the meanest patch of lawn.
The chicks we encountered last spring, it turned out, were not the offspring of our wild turkeys, but domesticated chicks purchased by our neighbors. Several ducks and four or five pheasants had also been acquired. The turkeys and pheasants roosted in the trees around the yard, and even on our neighbor's roof. But the ducks nested under blueberry and rhododendron. One night a young fox had attacked and killed one or two ducks. When our neighbors chased the fox off in the morning, they found the two turkey toms guarding the surviving ducks. Shredded feathers on the toms testified to repeated clashes with the fox. In this case, birds of a different feather stuck together.
So our neighbors set about building a small coop with cement base, upright metal poles, roof, and protective wiring. Throughout the summer and early fall the vocal ranges of the maturing birds increased dramatically. I named one particularly insistent and territorial duck Donald, until I learned that Donald was actually a she: Gertrude Gravel Bottom. The pheasants, several hens and a gorgeous ring-necked cock, quietly picked their way across our lawn in the evenings.
Nevertheless, the pride of the place went to the two turkey toms. We would occasionally find them strutting in the flower bed, fantails fully displayed, flight feathers stiff and formidable. Or we would look up from the dinner table to see them clinging awkwardly to the roof of a shed. Sometimes they would parade along the walk to the back door, as if they had been asked to tea. With their blue heads and snoods (the fleshy growth that tumbles alongside the beak), the red carbuncles and wattles of the throats, and the stripes of their tail feathers, these two characters were a sight to behold.
Throughout the summer the two toms were given to occasional outbursts of vehement, uncurbed gobbling. Visitors standing on our back porch were once startled by a burst of hilarious turkey music. Human words blended with turkey language so seamlessly that it appeared for a moment that our friends were actually gobbling.
Our neighbors assure us that their birds will survive Thanksgiving. Even a domesticated turkey or two, strutting across our lawn to display their fantails and send their defiant cries through our pines, thrills me. It is a bit of the old Carlisle, before zoning and computers made us fashionable, before tarred roads and grocery stores domesticated us.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito