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Tactical Turkeys

This weekend was notable not just because of the Fourth of July. Not just the Fourth of July but one where many people where I live felt that they could socially interact instead of socially distancing. It was also notable because the Massachusetts State Police had a tense situation with a bunch of armed men, with tactical gear, who feel that they are not part of America and that the rules we live by do not apply to them. Theirs is a fuzzy sort of logic that I can not follow but in the end, no one was hurt. Though many people on I-95 near Wakefield Massachusetts were undoubtedly unhappy that the highway was closed in both directions on one of the busiest travel days of the year might disagree with me…or even the outcome.


Do not be mislead by the title of this essay because it is not about the people with guns on the highway. It really is about Turkeys. Yep, Gobble, Gobble, that type of Turkey. Everyone’s favorite fowl come November. The type that makes for excellent cold cuts and therefore great sandwiches. Turkey melt, Turkey Club or Turkey Bacon and Avocado on the bread of your choice. Who can resist those options?


Once, almost twenty years ago, while in Northern Iraq, or as I prefer to call it Kurdistan. There in a bid to try and have a decent Thanksgiving the Team decided to acquire to local wild Turkeys, build cages for them and fatten them up. We named them Petraeus and Sanchez, invoking the most sacred right and privilege of men in a war, the right to be wise asses. The cages for the Generals, affairs of chicken wire and wood, were festooned with carboard name plates with the appropriate names and stars. We had by this time, been living off on our own in the wilds of Kurdistan without the benefit of the Army’s firm hand of discipline. It is possible we might have grown a little bit salty.


On the appointed holiday the birds were sacrificed and baked by the local bakery. They were they only place with an oven big enough to cook two birds that had spent a month being fed bread and beer. The birds were consumed, and I must confess that wild turkey has nothing on Butterball.


Now, I am in a place that may as well be a million miles from Kurdistan. I live in the suburbs of Northern Rhode Island. We are privileged to live in a place that is bordered by a lot of green space. There is a large nature preserve/park in town. There is a large state park nearby. We are near a golf course and the many large yards and old growth trees serve as sort of natural expressway for animals. In the spring when the windows are open, I can hear the Coyotes rambling through my yard in the nightly travels. The Fishers cats let out godawful screams that sand like people in pain. We have deer that come and eat every leafy thing in my yard they can. We have numerous birds that appreciate my laissez faire approach to mowing the lawn and trimming of hedges and shrubs. There are sly looking foxes who slink through, sometime on the hunt other times stopping to luxuriate in a patch of shade. They do not care one iota about my opinion about anything. Their posture is proof of that.


We also have Turkeys, wild ones at that. When I first started to watch them, I wasn’t that impressed. They seemed like lumbering, flightless, rejects from a scale model dinosaur kit, except with feathers. They seemed devoid of charm or personality. Not only that, but I knew from my time in Iraq that they did not taste as good as their farmed cousins. Not even close. In short there really wasn’t much going for Wild Turkeys in my opinion.


One day I was looking out the second-floor bedroom window as group of ten or so of them were ambling through my neighbors’ yard toward ours. They stopped at the street in a large gaggle. What they did next confounded me. They did a textbook version, unarmed of course, of what the Army taught me was called, “Crossing a Linear Danger Area”.


Leave to the Army to come up with the long way to say; “Crossing the Street” or “Crossing a field”. The rear most Turkey of the bunch turned sideways so he could watch their backs and keep an eye on them crossing. Rear Security. The front most two Turkeys crossed the street and spread out into my yard, making sure there were no predators. Then as no plumage was puffed out the rest of the Turkeys ran across the street. After they crossed Rear Security Turkey crossed. They were like an ugly, dumb, armless version of an infantry squad.


Lately I have taken to watching the Turkeys when they are on maneuvers in my yard. They have feeding in my other neighbor’s yard. The ones whose lot adjoins ours. The Turkeys were pecking and scratching in the dirt. Theirs is an elaborate dance of lawn destruction that involves scratching with their feet, stepping back over where the just scratched and pecking at the now exposed earth.


There were four or five of them waging war on my neighbors once nice-looking lawn. I watched them as they went about the slow methodical business of having a meal and noticed a lone Turkey. He or she or whatever it identifies as was standing at the base of the neighbor’s driveway. Head up, no feeding or scratching. He was pulling security (Amryese for acting as a lookout) for the other Turkeys.

It was a simple act. No doubt one developed through millennia of evolution and experience. It struck me however as one that was both simple and vital. Perhaps if the General Officer Turkeys we had in Iraq had a fellow fowl pulling security for them they might have lived a lot longer instead of ending up on our table.


Yesterday we went to a party with our boys and our friends. Like any group of people there were people there of different political leanings. People of different religious beliefs, some who eat meat and some who don’t. Everyone said the same thing. It was weird to be socializing again. It was weird not have to wear a mask. We had all missed being able to socialize. Those who were old enough were all vaccinated.


There was a Turkey not eating but posting up. Watching for danger for the good of his group so that they could survive and grow. Just doing the right thing to help the group, just being a good Turkey sentry. Maybe we could learn something from the Turkeys?