It’s possible that we conjure more descriptive words about the wild turkey than any other
bird that I can think of. Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be America’s national bird, preferring it over the bald eagle, as one that’s both respectable and native, vain and silly, but ultimately courageous and worthy of our deep regard.
Others among us have come to view the bird as… noble, comical, magnificent, omnivorous, adaptable, aggressive, shy, sagacious, and, for the carnivores among us, tasty… You name it. Perhaps more than any other of our avian species, the wild turkey allows us to see reflections of ourselves beneath those matted feathers. Okay, so this trim and graceful creature has a scrawny neck and an ugly head. We can’t all be as good looking as we dreamed to be.
On a frigid day in snowy winter, a couple dozen turkeys amble toward the house where it’s easier to scratch up food than in the usual fields and woods. They hunt for seeds and grasses near the backyard stream, their interwoven movements like a dark dance on the whitened landscape.
Some heads point at the ground; others peer upward and out for danger. One old hen seems dejected, as if longing for warmer days and easier foraging. Another bird holds a yellowed foot above the surface of the snow. A neck is twisted to the right, then snaps to the left for the bounty of brittle stalks. A grumpy adolescent shakes his face as if to say, “I can’t believe we came all this way for one stinkin’ lump!”
A neck is retracted for whatever warmth the feathers might lend. Chest and shoulders fluff themselves against the cold. The dark vertical striations seem to offer the depth and character that a watcher might enjoy.
Careful! A hungry turkey lumbers forward, ready to battle whatever comes its way. Magnified, the bird could be a rare rhinoceros charging a group of tourists.
They wander back and forth at varying speeds. They jostle, as if in a game, for undefined positions… Why, it’s the Super Bowl of Turkeys! One bird holds an acorn for a ball. The teams and players seem indecipherable– until we get a closer look.
Their action has a soundtrack in my mind. Whereas I’m tempted to orchestrate the feeding with a bit of classical elegance such as a Bach concerto, I actually hear a decent rock band from the 1970s– Wild Turkey, a spin-off combo from the early Jethro Tull. I hear the instrumental “See You Next Tuesday” from the album Turkey, 1972.
I hear five minutes of pedestrian, barnyard rock-and-roll (Glenn Cornick’s bass, drums, slide, piano, and guitar) followed by two more minutes of (finally) inspired, break-loose guitar– an uplifting and melodious solo where it’s easy to imagine that the turkey shuffle in the snow takes wing. As the birds leap up and begin their long flight across the hollow, the hair on my neck electrifies. The Turkey Bowl is over.
See you next Tuesday!
And everybody wins.