Talking Turkey: A Post Thanksgiving Salute
by Stephen Halpert
Driving around Grafton these days you may see a wild turkey or even a flock of them on the road ahead. They seem to enjoy the woods and occasionally the yards of nearby homes. Years ago, while still living in a house we acquired the affection of a turkey that liked perching on the railing of our front steps. We thought this was fun until it began pooping on the steps making passage to and from the house somewhat hazardous to the shoes. This turkey was quite persistent, and it was her arrival that sparked the basis for this story.
In real life it was difficult to discourage our feathered friend. Despite our not feeding her she insisted on staying. We tried shooing her away. Still no luck. Finally, we persuaded a knowledgeable friend to come and give us a hand. By laying out a line of grain she lured the bird into an open plastic garbage bag trap. She scooped the bag up, tied it shut and carried the squawking bird laden bag off to be opened far from our front door. We never saw the turkey again, and I hope she found a flock to cohabit with somewhere.
During those nippy nights at Valley Forge during the throes of our Revolution Benjamin Franklin did his best to proclaim the wild turkey as our national bird. The hawkish majority however favored the golden eagle and roasted his effort.
Over time it seems that animal husbandry has consistently proven that the wild turkey stands higher on the intelligence quota than most other feathered friends except perhaps for the gray parrot or the homing pigeon.
Today wild turkeys are recognized as astute and brilliant in most urban intellectual circles. Some compose verse and melody; others finger paint, while a small minority prefer to sit in meditation.
On my way to the mailbox with these thoughts in mind I stopped to converse with a wild turkey that has been living throughout our neighborhood. Fortunately, I remembered that in his famous book Kinship with All Life J. Allen Boone emphasized that when it comes to human-creature communications visualized images are more effective than the spoken word.
Our eyes met and slowly I envisioned the wild turkey sitting on our front stoop. Much to my surprise followed by a series of hesitant clucks she rose and did so. Pleased that we had achieved such clarity so quickly I then asked if she were traveling alone or as part of the larger flock. Rapidly she stamped her feet and bobbed her head back and forth. This behavior indicated to me that she might well have been a woman wronged or worse banished from her flock for whatever reason.
I then asked if she enjoyed flight. Instead of gracefully waving her feathers, she pulled them tight against her body. Her body language indicated that flight was not her fancy. Our rapport absolutely amazed me. She was able to pick right up on my thoughts. Her head bobbed happily back and forth. She clucked gaily, doubtlessly glad at least for now to be in harmony with a kindred soul who did not see her as a part of an eventual Thanksgiving or Holiday feast.
I wondered if she knew how to play chess, but again her tail feathers receded and her body indicated a no, but that was quickly followed with a strong desire out of the blue on my part to play ticktacktoe, a game I had not thought of since my boyhood. I envisioned the boxes and saw that she immediately placed an x in the middle square, a strong hint that she was adroit at this childhood game. We continued to play and she defeated me six out of seven times.
That’s when I decided to push the envelope and delve into her possible worldview. I envisioned a Bridge deck and sought her thoughts on present day America. Abruptly she jumped up and in no uncertain terms thrashed her beak into the nearest flowerbed.
Why do that I wondered? She thrashed and thrashed until I finally got it. “No Trump,” I said aloud and focused my concentration on the President. After a moment she bobbed her head up and down, gave a long series of furious clucks and then flung herself onto the lawn whereby she proceeded to give her best imitation of a lame duck desperate to crawl into the shade.
You’re wonderful, I thought as I sensed her perspicacity. An image of her sitting on our couch across from our TV as we watched PBS came into my mind. But despite her willingness to be invited I didn’t ask her in. Suddenly I just knew she preferred Public Broadcasting to standard network fare.
Through visual images that appeared in my mind she informed me as I had already suspected that she’d be quite happy to be moved in with us within a space of her own: some straw, a few simple toys, and easy access outside to our porch. Though I gathered she had never tried it I felt her empathetic appreciation for Tasha’s pasta and vegetarian style cooking.
If during 2020 you happen upon a wild turkey perched in a flowerbed or sniffing about your compost please be gentle and understand that they are gifted birds with highly evolved communication skills. Rather than callously shoo one away with the side of your foot relax, take a few deep breaths and participate in nonverbal visual communications. You might well be amazed by the results.