"In the woods is perpetual youth" - Emerson

GUIDED HIKES: 1-2 north of NYC, 2-3 hours west of Boston (click here)

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary - Northampton, MA

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Difficulty: Easy or Moderate

Main Attractions: Wonderful birdwatching spots, forests, wetlands, Connecticut River oxbow, wildlife.

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Nearby Hikes: Mt. Tom

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary (Northampton Audubon) - Normally I write a trail description and tell you about a particular place. But I'm going to depart from my normal trail descriptions because I have to tell you a story about what happened to me here a few years ago. So, I'll just say quickly that Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary is a great spot to capture some peace and tranquility. Birds of all types abound and there are nice man-made perches and huts to view them from. Arcadia has a nice variety of terrain for a place that's relatively small and all the trails are flat and easily managed. Part of it borders an oxbow of the Connecticut River so that probably explains the abundant bird life since the oxbow is a perfect habitat for the amazing frequent fliers who migrate through or take up residence. In spite of what I'm about to tell you, I highly recommend it and if you haven't been to Northampton, MA. that's also a good reason to go since it has small town charm mixed with a touch of big city life. Arcadia is five minutes from downtown. But onto my story because in all my years of hiking I've only had one scary encounter with a wild animal and it happened here. I wish I could say it was a bear, mountain lion, or rabid coyote, but I can't...it was a...well...it was a turkey.

If you ever go on a hike and are attacked by a wild turkey...don't ever tell anyone. They won't let you live it down...ever. I know, because this happened to me when I hiked at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary one cold, March day. Most people laugh at me when I tell the story but a few refuse to believe me (even had one lady flat out tell that there was no way I could have been attacked by a turkey..."that could never happen because turkeys don't do that."... said she was going to ask her scientist friend if that were possible). Like I'm going to lie about getting attacked by a turkey?! I should have lied and said it was a bear.

Here's what happened (sense of humor needed).

A few years back I lived in Northampton and one wintery March day I had cabin fever and needed to get outside. I had seen the signs for Arcadia but had never stopped in so I decided that this day would be a good one for visiting. I knew with the cold weather and icy conditions I'd basically have the place to myself, and so it was. The trails were very slick in certain spots because ice was still prevalent from the dwindling winter snow cover. But it was a nice day, since it was quiet like only winter can be quiet, and some early spring birds were quite active. I hiked the main trail loop which isn't too long and enjoyed my exploration. I was heading back to the main parking lot (about 500 yards back in woods) when the silence was interrupted by a bizarre sound. You know how that can happen when you're hiking alone...you sometimes "hear" things that seem otherworldly but always turn out to be some mundane thing (falling rock in the distance, tree snap, etc.). This was a sound that made me stop and look around. Just as I was about to get spooked I heard it again but then instantly recognized the rapid fire "gobble, gobble, gobble" of a turkey. Whew. It took me a minute, but off to my right I saw the turkey through the trees and he was walking over towards me. I said to myself, "Cool! ...rarely see one so close." Little did I know that I was about to do battle with a beast more fearsome than The Predator that Schwartzenneggar faced. This was no potential Thanksgiving meal but a tom (a male turkey) ready to defend his turf or just in a really bad mood.

The sight of him was fascinating at first. Wild turkeys are big and they sort of look like dinosaurs. People made fun of Ben Franklin when he suggested that the turkey become our national bird. I'm with Ben. I'm 6'1" and this tom was up to my waist and looked awfully sure of himself. Usually they'd never come close to people but this guy was walking right up to me. It seemed strange that a wild turkey would do that, then I deduced that he might be tamed and used to people. "Ah, you're tamed and looking for a handout. Sorry, little fella', I don't have any bread for you.", I said quietly, peacefully... Well, my Sherlock Holmes deduction that he was tame was WAY off! I was thinking that "Tom" and I were having a nice, peaceful moment together but my joy of having a handsome wild turkey standing right in front of me was savagely taken away when Tom decided that he was going to open up a can of whoop ass on me. What prompted this, I'll never know. After our zen-like encounter was over I looked into his eye as if to say "Well, best be on my way, you see later little fella'". I no sooner finished that thought when Tom smashed his beak into my crouch with a thunderous blow. Thank goodness for hard denim jeans and long underwear or I'd be talking a few octaves higher today! "Whooaaa!!!" I shouted at him and put my hand up as if he'd actually understand the universal hand signal for "stop". Until that instant I had never given a turkey a second thought. I always thought they were kind of cool and mellow creatures who kept to themselves. I certainly never thought of them as a potential threat in any way, shape, or form. I quickly tried step back because I thought he might be threatened by me and needed a sign that all was well. But the section of trail was a sheet of ice and I sort of did one of those cartoon deals where my feet spun in place until I gained my balance again. I froze and quietly uttered, "Uh-oh". I just had a sense that Tom was not a fun guy. He was looking like he could use a good fight and he had me right where he wanted me. He knew it, and I knew it. This was about to get ugly.

Tom and I then faced off Clint Eastwood style for a few seconds as I tried to figure something out. I laughed out loud at the upsurdity of being slightly intimidated by a turkey. But I had to be on my toes since I was more than a little unnerved at the thought of taking another blow from Sid Vicious. The first one hurt. "I'll just walk right past him and nudge him if I have to.", I strategized. Wrong. In the blink of an eye Tom blasted me three times in the stomach, hip, and crotch. And these weren't little bird pecks...these were "OOUUUCCCH!!!! Am I bleeding?!" poundings. I was now officially scared as I realized I was in an official fight that I wanted no part of. The ice was foiling any attempt to get away from him. "Unbelievable", I thought. I'm standing in the middle of the woods, on a sheet of ice, nobody's around, with no way out but straight through wacko Tom.

Now, I respect all forms of life in general. If a bee gets caught inside my house I'll trap it in a glass with a make-shift cover, open the window, and let it free. But Tom was scaring me and he looked like he was just warming up. So out went all that "I brake for animals" crap and I went into fightin' mode! (though I've never really been in a fight unless you count a couple grade school "Hey, you cut in front of me!" encounters). I'd like to think of myself as a good athlete (baseball, basketball, football, skateboarding, mountain biking, etc.) and was known for my lithe coordination. I didn't want to hurt him but if I had to get physical and use my superior human attributes to put him in his place, I was ready. Before I could act, Tom struck me hard in the crouch and went for another strike so I tried to blast him in the head to frighten him but he ducked out of the way with lighting moves, evaded my hand, and blasted me in the crouch...again! I tried to kick him like a 50 yard field goal but I just kicked air as Tom ducked under my boot and I nearly fell on my...the ice. "This is ridiculous!! You're a freakin' turkey!!!!!", I yelled out, half-laughing, half-nervous, as if Tom would hear my words and come to his senses "Oh, yeah, I am a turkey. What am I doing?!

Then all laughing stopped. This had to end. The humor in finding myself trapped by a turkey was gone. I was worried he'd put a serious hurtin' on me. I thought about jumping him and grabbing him by the neck and throwing him off the trail. Then I quickly realized what a ridiculous idea that was. I'd probably wind up with a face full of snow and leaves with Tom on top of me with a clear shot at my head. I took a couple of quick steps into the woods to get off the ice and onto the snowy leaves. Tom blasted me in the ass as I did this but that was okay because I was in a better place...it was just one of those things where you knew it was going to hurt but you took the pain to get it over with. At some point I stepped on a stick and immediately picked it up. I was armed!! Yes! "Alright, you little bugger (I used another word, but children might be reading this) I think this changes things." It did alright, as Tom got really pissed at the sight of the stick and blasted me in the stomach, crouch, and knee. I swung wildly and with anger but Tom darted back and forth and bobbed up and down to avoid my strikes and landed a stinging blow into my gut, but I finally landed back-to-back blows to his chest and back. That got his attention. "Oh, you don't like getting hit either, huh? Kinda hurts, don't it!? Now...I don't want to hurt you so just go away!!", I said to Tom. I could have sworn that Tom grinned like only a bad guy can grin.

Tom was sporting a look that said "I'm the man." I had tried the old "I'm bigger and superior to you" Darwinian process but Tom wasn't having it and was looking for another round. So I just bolted for the car. Screw all that macho crap...I had met my match and nobody was around to see me run through the woods like a piglet stalked by a jungle tiger! I figured if I put on a burst of high speed running for about 50 yards I'd dust this dirt ball. But I was to find out later that turkeys can run 30 miles-an-hour and their reflexes are ten times faster than ours (which explains my inability to defend myself). I only got about 10 yards and turned around in time to see Tom gaining on me like a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. I whirled with my stick raised. This protected me from another strike as old Tommy Boy wasn't so tough after all as I'm sure he remembered the few ninja blows I landed. But I knew that this wacko wasn't going to leave me alone so I literally had to hike out of the woods backwards, while holding a stick in order to keep Tom at bay. Eventually I made my way to the nature center and main parking lot. This caused Tom to drop back a few steps, but he literally followed me all the way to my car as if to say "get in that car and get your sorry little self atta' here." As I started the car and turned on the heat, I sighed a big relief. I was actually joyous at being safe inside my car from a turkey. "That didn't just happen", I laughed. I took one last look at Tom as he strutted victoriously back into the woods. "I'll be back!!", I jokingly yelled out.

I did go back a number of times through the years for a chance at Hiker vs. Turkey Part II, but I never saw him again nor has anyone else because I asked a volunteer at Arcadia if anyone had a reported a similar incident. She just gave me a "yeah, right" response. All's I can say is, thank goodness for cold weather clothing, or the Vienna Boys Choir might have its oldest member ever. Even with all my winter clothing on I still had a few welts the next day. My story has brought on bundles of laughs and hysterical finger pointing. A few denied it happened as it did because they just can't believe a turkey could do such a thing. Because I came off as such a wimp in other people's eyes and so many others claimed they've never heard of such a thing, I did a little research on the Internet to ease my mind. My research confirmed that turkey attacks are nearly unheard of but it seems as though I'm not the only turkey survivor out there! A postal worker in Newtonville, MA refused to deliver mail to a certain street because a turkey attacked him with a persistence that can only be described as maniacal...and just him...other postal workers didn't have a problem with the Newtownville Maniac. Then there's the northern California senior citizen community (Alfred Hithcock wouldn't even be so mean as to write a script like this). Seems as though a group of young toms wandered into a new part of town and decided a game of "let's chase old people around" would be fun. Fortunately, the little juvenile delinquents were rounded up and taken far away.

Someone else has confessed to more turkey hyjinx. I'm feeling more at ease about my encounter. Jim Porter (http://menotomyjournal.com - nice resource for things going on in his area) has a local television show on Channel 8 in Arlington, MA. He ventured out for peaceful hike, but it didn't end that way. He wrote: "I also feel a kind of kinship to the poor soul who wrastled with a turkey. While hiking the Alander Mountain Trail in the late Spring of 2003 (which I actually heard about at the time from another website) - rather tired because I was on my way down the mountain - I heard a sudden rustling in the trail beside me. It seemed like a different rustling from the sound of the chipmunks that had accompanied my walk all day long. I looked down and I was surprised at what I saw -- the biggest and ugliest baby duck you could ever imagine. Then I spotted another, and then another still. I was surrounded by these mutant quackers. Out of nowhere I heard this blood-curdling scream that startled me out of my wits. I turned around and standing right behind me, wings outstretched, looking mighty distressed, pacing quickly back and forth, was a mother turkey. It seems I had unwittingly stumbled upon her brood, and she was none too pleased. The mother turkey stopped, look me right in the eye, and then darted straight for my crotch. I yelped a kind of little girl scream, and then started running as fast as my legs could take me. It occurred to me that should I stand and fight, not only might I create a group of orphaned turkeys who would never survive, but I'm sure I'd be breaking some serious wildlife laws and end up in federal prison with my luck. The mother turkey was in hot pursuit. Man, those things are fast! She pecked at my ass once, then again, and I hopped and yelped like a Girl Scout each time she did. Finally, she slowed down and let me go. I ran all the way back to my car. I had completely forgotten how worn out I was. "

Now, you shouldn't be afraid of turkeys because of my story (or Jim's either). It was an anomaly. It was just one of those crazy things. Perhaps I ate too much turkey the previous Thanksgiving or didn't give proper thanks for the dark meat. Normally, turkeys are afraid of people. Afterall, hunters shoot thousands every year (Hunters use special "calls" that duplicate the sounds of a tom during mating season which attracts other toms who perceive this as a threat and therefore walk right into a hidden ambush. It's not hard at all to sit behind thick bushes dressed like Rambo with a high powered rifle or bow and shoot a turkey. Those aren't real men like me. I went toe-to-toe with a huge tom with my bare hands!). It's rare to see a turkey while hiking but I've seen dozens of them throughout my life as I've hiked deep into the woods or across remote farmlands. All of them have run away or stayed a huge distance away from me. All of them except one. I don't know what the life span of a turkey is or if Tom was lured into an ambush by one of those cowardly hunters, but it's possible that Tom is out there somewhere. If you come across a turkey that isn't acting like a turkey...grab a big stick and...RUN!!!!

Hiking at Arcadia was great in spite of my wild encounter. I think you'd really enjoy it. Nice trails, serene forests, and some great vantage points along the Connecticut River oxbow. Perfect place if you're into birdwatching. I also learned a valuable lesson there. Turkeys rule and that's all there is too it. I know my place and it's not as high as I thought it was. Tom knows this too. Nothing has intimidated and humbled me like the great one...Tom the Turkey. He was the baddest dude I've ever met. And as such, my respect for turkeys is immense and mythical. I look upon them with great respect like a young ninja respects his sensei. Doomo arigato gozaimasu, Tom Turkey-san.  Keith

The following directions were taken of Arcadia's official website Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary
18 (Rt 5, Northampton). Take a right onto Rt 5 south. After 1.4 miles, take a right onto East Street at the sign for Easthampton Center (Oxbow Sports is on the corner). Follow East Street for 1.2 miles and turn right onto Fort Hill Road at the Mass Audubon sign. Go 0.9 miles and bear right at the next Mass Audubon sign and turn left into the sanctuary.

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