Friday, November 25, 2005

Turkeys and Their Discontents

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I was driving down my street when I saw a flock of turkeys waddle across my neighbor’s yard. We live in a town with agricultural roots. One of the biggest employers used to be an apple sauce plant that processed apples from local growers. Over time, the local growers couldn’t compete in their own county with growers from colder climates more than a thousand miles away. Now, the biggest local crop is grapes because my neighbors want to pretend that they run a small family winery in the south of France while they drive around in SUVS  and sell real estate and promote IPOs.  People do still raise things here, but the biggest local employer publishes books about Linux .  They took out a pasture to build their headquarters.

When we moved here fourteen years ago, our street was different. Five houses up from us, there was a couple who lived in a trailer who sold blue eggs from there Aruacana chickens.  One side of the street was a largely dormant apple orchard.  Deer came to our front door.  When my daughter was two, I came home one night and said “Dear where are you?”  My daughter answered “Deer live in the orchard.  Mom’s in the bedroom.” I was convinced that my daughter was some sort of lexical genius or at worst a future writer of sitcoms.  That was the same year, she had a chocolate doughnut for the first time and christened them “chocolate bagels.”

In any case, there used to be a hundred yard open space swath that cut through our neighborhood  and made the creek behind our house like a singles bar for wildlife. In our second month  in the house, we had to stop leaving cat food out on the deck because a seriously unattractive opossum had taken a liking to domestic life.  Over the years, we‘ve attempted to domesticate a variety of animals with varying success.  A rabbit died from sun exposure.  Baby chicks became chickens only to be turned into chicken dinners by our border collies’ newly discovered ability to dig underneath a wire fence.  Ducks either flew away or were ducknapped by a neighbor girl who decided she was more interested in our ducks than staying friends with our daughter. My daughter also rescued a baby bird who was abducted in the middle of a summer night by one of the cats.  So even if it’s not a suburban version of the Lion King, it’s still been a lot of critters.

The turkeys have been around for a few years.   The first time we noticed them, they were three streets away and used to wander across the pavement in front of traffic. My daughter would make us stop the car for a few seconds each time we saw one so she could point and laugh with delight as the turkeys crossed the road each member of the flock out of rhythm with the next. Now,that daughter has completed driver’s education and soon will be driving the turkey crossing without us.  I don’t know if some of those went feral and prospered or if they came from elsewhere.  A couple months ago, I spotted a flock of them wandering the local cemetery.  Now,they seem to be catching on in my neighborhood.This flock totaled about sixteen and they straddled my neighbor’s lawn in two distinct groups as they looked under bushes and in flower beds for whatever it is that wild turkeys happen to eat.  For the last day, my wife has been joking that the flock had at least three or four more members until a couple of the neighbors must have engaged in self-help for their Thanksgiving dinner.

In my mother’s town, there’s a street that got overrun by chickens that escaped from  someone’s yard.  One of their neighbors began feeding them, then locals started treating the street as a minor tourist attraction and fed the birds some more.  It’s not a good thing.  For one thing, the chickens attracted vermin and scared out smaller bird species.  Just in time for avian flu, the chickens got moved out somehow. I don’t know if the turkeys will fully establish themselves in our neighborhood and town.  They hardly seem to be the sort of animal that would flourish in a world of front yards and three car garages. and compete with cats, dogs, and raccoons.  I should also mention that we live less than fifteen miles from where Alfred Hitchcock shot the movie the Birds, so it’s easy to have darker thoughts about these turkeys holding pre-Thanksgiving raves in our front yards.  Perhaps, they are happy that so many vegetarians live in my county and they’re just coming by at Thanksgiving to say thank you in person.   Now that I”ve said all this, I have to confess to doing something very odd.  For the last year or so, I’ve been collecting airsoft guns.  These are Asian built modern versions of the old Daisy BB gun.  Instead of looking like replicas of the Rifleman’s lever action Winchester, these are faithful clear plastic replicas of uzis, sig sauers, and other modern weapons.  Instead of firing the ever dreaded steel bb, these fire a softer plastic bb at about two hundred feet per second.  At about ten feet, it stings a little.  At forty feet, you might not feel the impact.

That’s right, I drove home, spotted the turkeys, ran to my stash of airsoft guns, and went into my frontyard and took aim at one of the turkeys from about eighty feet away.  I missed my first four shots, then hit one in the hindquarters.  The turkey didn’t even seem to notice that it had been shot.  It just kept waddling at the same pace right past a set of sprinklers.   My wife and daughter were very unimpressed with my turkey hunting story.  In fact, they were so unexcited, they didn’t even bother to leave the kitchen where they were getting ready for Thanksgiving to either try to stop me or to see me act out some need to be a Robert Bly hunter gatherer.

For whatever reason, the turkey tasted better than usual this year, even though it came from a supermarket.  Or was it because it came from the supermarket?  I’ve never been hunting.  I’ve been fishing, but have never had the patience to actually catch anything.  I can now, however, say that I’ve shot a turkey and watched it walk away from death on the day before Thanksgiving.  Perhaps,  I was acting out some suburban version of a photo safari.  After a year of sporadically Buddhist meditations where we talk about honoring life among other things, I did this impulsive thing that was both harmless and aggressive all at once.  I am now the John Hinckley of neighborhood turkeydom.  

Sometimes I have no idea why I do what I do.  I can’t even promise that I”d never do it again.  My wife tells me that the neighbors are going to want to have me locked up if they catch me.



At 11/28/2005 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHY no CATS in your profile picture??????????!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yuck.

I love this piece however -- especially about your daughter now driving the turkey crossing herself -- woe is you. Driving. If my parents ever knew about my first five years of driving, they'd re-die.

I'm worried about this shooting thing tho. Like compulsive gambling, this stuff accretes. Look at Dick.

We should all do the doctor's oath: Do no harm.

I shot a sparrow with a bb gun once and that made me a militant pacifist forEVER. Helplessly and stupidly watching it slowly die made me realize the consequences of gratuituous 'sport.' It was utterly horrible. Shoot soda cans. Now, aiming and shooting the inanimate -- that's fun! I am rather an excellent shot, in fact.

At 11/28/2005 01:16:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

As I said, I have no idea why I was so intent on shooting the turkey. I did know that it couldn't hurt the critter and I suppose it had something to do with Thanksgiving. I won't make it a habit, especially with that image of it turning me into the vice president.

The turkeys were out the other night and they wouldn't even let me get close enough to take a picture. Maybe, they remembered.

At 10/25/2007 11:34:00 AM, Blogger Nonnie Augustine said...

Geese live the good life in a Washington D.C. suburb near where I lived in Maryland. There was a bit of a rucus when a Korean-American's father shot one for dinner. Even though the flock had grown to absurd numbers, shooting one for dinner was against the law. Nothing bad happened to the dad though. Maybe because he was 93 and his daughter promised he'd behave.

At 10/25/2007 11:40:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said..., a 93 year old man wandering around with a gun shooting geese is quite an image.

There was a story some years ago in California that Southeast Asian immigrants were hunting in Golden Gate Park. It was was sort of touching.


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