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Touched by Turkeys

Posted 11/21/2018 6:44pm by Sally Voris .

This spring, I bought six poults on a whim for half-price at the local hardware store. Now families will feast on two birds at Thanksgiving, ending a season rich with experience and emotion.

“Gobble doesn't do the sound justice,” a visitor said on Sunday. I agreed. For me, a gobbler is like an Italian tenos striding across the stage, clothed in silks of iridescent bronze, with stripes of green and copper, full-throated, deep-chested. He calls exuberantly, “ I am so here for you, my darling! I want to share my love of life!Come to me! Answer me and I will come to you! ”

No hens have come. The two Toms have stayed behind fencing close to where visitors park their cars. They have strutted for months, their snoods lengthening and turning bright red. They expand their chests, puff out their feathers, drop their wing feathers and circle as they open their tail feathers into a full fan. Their entire chest quivers as they create a deep drumming sound. Some visitors call back to them and they respond. Often they gobble if someone laughs heartily or if a car door opens. Everyone has marveled at these handsome birds.

When they arrived, each bird filled a hand, no more. A reticent young man arrived to begin a summer job placement. Every week, I challenged him with new experiences. When the poults had to be moved from a heated box, I herded them into its corner with a board. “Grab them,” I insisted. He hesitated as they fluttered up the side of the box, then he reached in to get them. A month later, he grabbed the birds and held them down while I trimmed their wing feathers to keep them from roosting in trees.

They grazed in an area behind the barn. Then we noticed that birds were disappearing during the day: one, two, three, four birds. A friend saw the rump of a large brown cat in dense brush at the top of our pond. The cat probably roamed through the wild brush close to this area, climbed the limb of a willow, dropped into the pasture, nabbed the birds and left.

So he drove the Toms into large cages and we took them to the old goat house in the center of an open pasture. We encircled the area with portable poultry fencing. I shooed them in every night; he cleaned the shelter once a week. “It's going to seem awfully quiet without them,” he said two weeks ago.

Mid-summer, an intense thirty-something woman began volunteering at the farm. She had moved back home after exhausting herself in a high-pressured corporate job. “I need to find myself again,” she acknowledged. She saw the turkeys and asked if she could butcher one; she wanted to learn to raise her own animals. She named him Eddie, after her worst boss, and every time she went to see the bird, she curled a snarl, both tender and hurt, as she called him by name, “Eddie!” and planned to serve him for Thanksgiving. Over the summer, she began working for local butchers; she learned that she had a special gift for calming the animals just before they die. By fall, she was processing birds.

For months, she and I watched my gander spend his days close to the turkeys. He lost his mate this spring to a fox. This woman searched to find a goose for the gander so that when the turkeys left, he would not be alone. “That would have been the hardest,” she said. Her father delivered a lovely gray goose last Wednesday. I lifted her out of the cage and set her close to the gander. We watched anxiously: he preened; she preened. Soon, they had become a happy pair.

A friend, a hunter, arrived before dawn on Monday to help me load these 40-pound birds into cages and into my full-sized truck. We drank in the fresh morning air and marveled as the first colors appeared in the Eastern sky. I ached with emotion. ” Is it hard for you too?” “Yes,” he said simply. “I practice so that I can shoot cleanly. I thank the animal and I eat all the meat.” He described becoming quiet in the woods and noticing how the light changed moment by moment. “ I have so many pictures on my phone from my times in the woods,” he added, waving his cell phone in the air.

Then I drove the birds to a local butcher where the young woman now works. “Lovingly harvested; lovingly raised. The whole thing is so special!” she exclaimed. Yes, it has been.

Each of us has stepped beyond our comfortable boundaries to a place where soul learning can take place. I came to love these birds, yet I chose to have them butchered rather than keeping them confined over the winter. Was it easy? No! But is it real? Yes, so real, this place where joy and sorrow, life and death, past and future, self and other meet. All can be respected, even celebrated. What a rich harvest these turkeys have provided for our senses and our souls!

May we now honor our splendid brothers as we sit down for the Thanksgiving meal.



Quiet time is starting....

Hazel is back! She is pregnant and due midwinter. Our thanks to Leah Mack, at whose farm Hazel and Daisy spent the summer with a virile bull.  Now we want to find Daisy, a pure-bred Jersey, a new home. She is pregnant and due mid-spring. Interested? Please contact me. Thanks. Sally    

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