Benjamin Franklin on being dismayed that the bald eagle was selected as the national bird:

For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison to the Bald Eagle a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Sometime last winter I noticed them. The four Tom Turkeys waddling across the snow.

I had bird feeders out and they would stop and peck at the snow beneath the feeders.

Michael had just become bedridden and I stationed the hospital bed by the French Doors in the family room so he could see them. I also hung bird feeders by the windows and doors so he could see them.

I know they were around the year before.

For some reason I was working at home a lot in the winter of 2007-2008 and we took a lot of pictures of the birds including cardinals in the snow and a funny one that was published on lolcats.


Every day Michael and I would make lunch and then spend some time every afternoon taking some pictures of the birds and the cats watching the birds.

We called it Cat TV.

My kids started to call me the crazy bird lady but Michael thought it was really funny. He didn’t particularly appreciate “bird seed” being added to the weekly grocery list but he “got” it.

We saw a few wild turkeys and Michael loved when they would take off down the hill with their wings spread. He loved to watch them take off down the hill.

One day one jumped on the railing of the deck and Goobies eyes grew wide as if that was the biggest damn bird he’d ever seen. Lils headed under the couch. Michael and I laughed and Michael said to Goobies, “oh big bad cat you are…that turkey scared you!”

We have five acres on a river. And there are about 2 acres on the house site (lawn) and 3 wooded acres in the back down to the river. I bought the house because of the river, for Michael to fish in. Being a city person I tried to amuse myself with some things in the country and feeding the animals became one of those things.

Last year I went even crazier with the bird feeders so that Michael could see them from every room whether he was bedridden or in the wheelchair. And I scattered seed going from the back to the front of the house so that the turkeys and deer and other animals would pass right by the windows and French doors for Michael to see.


I knew he enjoyed seeing the animals and I spent some time repositioning the feeders, the bed, pulling up the blinds….doing what I could so he could see the outside world brimming with life and activity.

Sometime last winter I was putting seed out and the turkeys heard me and started to run. I called them, “turkey turkey turkey” and threw the black sunflower seeds. They retreated into the woods anyway. I repeated it the next day and the day after. Each time they retreated at the sound of the seed hitting the snow. But afterwards would come out cautiously and peck at the seeds. By the fourth day they started to slow their retreat and by the fifth day they started to turn around once they heard the seed hit the ground.

At first they wouldn’t eat until I went inside but after a while I could stand there and keep throwing the seed to them.

By the time the hospice workers were here in March, the turkeys would run out of the yard when their cars pulled in but I could call them back.

Michael’s LPN, a big guy originally from the Bronx (like me) and a big hearty laugh, would marvel at the way the turkeys came to me. “Do you see what your wife does Mike?” he would ask. “Do you see how those wild turkeys come to her?” Michael would give a little laugh and a sly smile and say, “Yeah, she has a way with animals.”

In the spring there were suddenly the female turkeys and 6 or 7 babies. They were so cute. The mamas and the babies wouldn’t come to me, but the Toms would still come running. After I went in the house, the mothers and babies would come out and feed next to the Toms.

I would be talking to Michael at his bedside and all of a sudden I’d see a turkey passing by and I would say, “Oooh, my turkeys!” And he would laugh. If someone was there he would say, “Her turkeys…” and give another laugh.


The turkeys made little nests at the edge of the wood and I would see their imprints in the dirt when I would walk around the property. They seemed to be living right behind the first row of trees.

I don’t usually put the bird feeders out in the summer time because of the bears but I kept a few out so that some of the ground feeding birds like the mourning doves and the turkeys would continue to show up. And the little birds did too. I kept a finch feeder and one feeder for the bigger birds.

Michael and I have hummingbirds everywhere (figurines etc) because someone once said we reminded them of hummingbirds and we gave each other a lot of hummingbird “things.”

We had hummingbird feeders in California and lots of hummingbirds when we lived there, but we hadn’t had any hummingbird feeders since.

But last summer I put one up and the hummingbirds came. They were so sweet to see and I pointed them out to Michael and it made him smile.

That made me happy

and sad.

But the turkeys were the main attraction. They were there all summer and the hospice workers would tell me to call the turkeys and I did and they would come dutifully running to me. And everyone found it so amusing.

When Michael’s caregiver started to give him walks in the wheelchair during the late spring and summer, I would go out and call the turkeys so he could see them run over to me. He enjoyed it even more outside.

***

After Michael died I didn’t feed any of the birds for a few days. I was just not thinking about it.

But one day I got out of my car and the three Tom turkeys were standing on the lawn looking at me, like “So where have you been?” I went in and gave them some seed. They ate and waddled back into the woods.

After the leaves started to fall, I took a walk down the hill (which I never do). I noticed that someone was making a path down there, parallel to the river. This was all private property and no one should be there.

I assumed it must be some kids cutting across. I would see kids sometimes down the street fishing off the little bridge that runs across the river. I assumed they were fishing.

But in the beginning of November I heard clear gun shots in the back and, not thinking, I went running down into the woods, ready to yell at whomever was back there. I wasn’t thinking that I was taking on someone with a gun. But why was someone with a gun on my property?

I looked on the internet and the only thing that was allowed to be hunted at the time was turkeys. I was very upset but I saw my turkeys the next day and the rest of the week.

I recently read this excerpt in The Week (my favorite weekly after the New Yorker) about this woman who bought a chicken which turned out to be a rooster and named him and made him a pet and then lopped his head off and ate him. I didn’t get the point of the story. I didn’t get why she would do this and write about it. I was just glad I wasn’t her and didn’t want to lop any of my pet’s heads off and eat them. I was just glad I’m not that type of person.

Not that my turkeys were my pets, but they were my turkeys. I thought so and I think they thought so too.

My son Nick came up the next weekend and we bought about 15 signs to put in the back, No Hunting, No Fishing, No Trespassing…PRIVATE PROPERTY. We made sure to put them along the path someone had made and to push leaves onto the path.

I saw the turkeys, moms, dads, babies for the next few days. And then the next weekend I heard shots again, a lot of shots…

and I never saw my turkeys again.

****

Over the course of the past 10 days I’ve looked for the turkeys. I’ve walked down to the river, I’ve walked back and forth across the property. They’re not there. None of them.

Someone either came on my property or close to my property and killed them. Some asshole.

I was so upset for a few days and wondered why anyone would shoot those turkeys. If you want a damn turkey go to the supermarket. Or they have turkey farms.

Why kill my turkeys? Why?

Perhaps they thought themselves all manly and macho killing turkeys and bringing them home for Thanksgiving. Give me a break. There was no sport in killing those turkeys. You killed them in their home. Jerks. I wish I could see this person face to face because I would scream at him and never stop screaming.

***

In this year of grief and loss, where I lost Michael and I lost Goobies, I could not believe how profoundly the loss of the turkeys affected me.

I stare across the yard, waiting for them to come out, waiting for them to show up. I call, “turkey turkey turkey” and nothing.

Today I was all alone and took a walk along the property’s edge and whispered, “turkey turkey turkey” and there was no answer. I kept walking around to the edge of the property and back, going into the woods and back up the hill again.

I walked down a little ways into the woods on this cold, windy, grey November day. I looked up at the house that I bought for Michael…and then turned to look down through the trees to the river that I was so happy to find for him…and I just felt cold and alone.

Two years ago…when we were taking those pictures…seems like such a long time. Michael was there. Goobies was there. The turkeys were there.

The feeling of loss enveloped me. I felt deeply and completely alone. I felt as if I’ve been unfairly stripped of everything…and nothing is safe. Nothing.

I whispered into the growing darkness, “Honey, they killed my turkeys honey.”

No one is here to talk to about the turkeys. The hospice workers and caregivers are gone. Michael is gone. Goobies is gone.

It might seem weird that in a week where they slaughter millions of turkeys in the US that the loss of these turkeys upsets me. But it does.

And it makes the big lonely world just a little bigger.

And a little lonelier.

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