These birds were photographed on a spring drive through the foothills, about twenty miles from my house. The puffed up, greeting card version is what the males look like in season, when they are strutting their stuff and looking for love. The other bird is what most turkeys look like, most of the time.
You are reading this on Thanksgiving, but I am writing on September 27, about something that happened yesterday. My wife came to the door of the little building out back where I work and said, “Come here. Quietly.” There were ten wild turkeys eating bugs and acorns along the east side of the house.
We don’t get turkeys very often right up to the house, although seeing them in the neighborhood is a common occurrence. We stood for twenty minutes watching in the hundred degree heat of the tag end of summer before they casually wandered off.
Turkeys are the symbol of Thanksgiving, but I was thankful to see them because wild things fill my life with joy.
I grew up on a farm in Oklahoma in another century. I worked long hours when I was growing up, but I worked outdoors, so it might have well have been play. The music that filled my life was the churr of cicadas on summer evenings and the howl of coyotes echoing through the frosty night air in winter.
I left the farm for college, then spent my adult life in a small city, and moved to the foothills when I retired. Now my human neighbors are near enough for help in emergencies, but far enough away that I don’t hear them when they fight. I don’t even know if they fight.
Several times I have seen packs of coyotes running through my yard. Once a mother duck with nine ducklings following single file paraded through. Deer come in from time to time. They mostly prefer the low ground, and we live on a hill, but they come for water as the long days of summer dry out the last of their water holes. I keep water in bird baths for the birds, and water basins on the ground for everybody else.
The deer also have an uncanny knack of knowing when the tomatoes are ripe. Oh, well.
I see a bobcat about once a year, somewhere nearby. Twice they have come into our yard. Once I looked out the window to see a bobcat in the fenced back yard where stray cats stay out of reach of coyotes. My wife and I watched out the window as he sauntered along, unaware of us, then casually jumped the six foot fence without touching it.
We were even visited one holiday by the Christmas Pig. It was a three hundred pound porker who had obviously escaped from some farmer. I saw him several times after, so I’m maintaining hope that he was never found, and escaped becoming bacon and sausage.
So, happy Thanksgiving to you. And also to the turkeys and ducks and bobcats and raccoons and possums and the one lone pig.
In my house, Thanksgiving means turkey (from the supermarket, of course), stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Being thankful means looking out my window and never knowing what kind of critter might be looking back.