"Dancin', prancin', yodellin' man!
One of Nick's domesticated wild turkeys, strutting
This story might not be what you expect. For a number of years, I have found every turkey that I have encountered to be, well, intimidating. The first turkey I came eye to eye with, a full grown tom, approached the open window of my car as I entered the driveway of an old friend of mine, a farmer. The big fellow sauntered up to my car door, and looked me straight in the eye, and I knew at once that he was someone to contend with. I exited on the passenger side. When I related my experience to my friend, safe inside the house, he nearly fell out of his chair, laughing. The idea that a man would be afraid of a turkey, he found extremely amusing.
My trepidation with the idea of turkey encounters hasn't improved over the years. A few years ago, I travelled with my parents to meet a farmer in Southern California. Since we have an unusual family name, Bridenbaugh, my father called a few people that had the same name. When he told them he was a doctor, many of them invited him to their houses. Most of them were farmers. I guess it's because the name is Pennsylvania Dutch.
We went to the Bridenbaugh farm, which was a spacious place. The man said that he was actually retired, and that he did only a few things. One of them, was, he had a large enclosure of half-grown white turkeys. On his invitation, we entered the pen. The turkeys retreated, and then, forming a ring around us, slowly advanced toward us, making threatening chirps. I wanted to scream. When we left, he gave us several boxes of avocados. He had a row of gigantic trees. He said he didn't even harvest them anymore. I read several years later, that there had been thefts of avocados in California, amounting to as much as fifty thousand dollars. We made a lot of guacamole.
My latest experience with turkeys came about through a friend I made at the coffee shop, Nicholas, who is a fan of all varieties of poultry. I first met him when he brought one of his chickens, an Ameranca-- a beautiful thing, resembling the prairie chickens I had seen as a boy in Montana. He created a woven cage for it from weed wacker twine, a tensegrity structure, which he could open up to insert the chicken when he boarded the bus. I fell in love with his chicken, and said that I wanted one just like his. I actually did buy four chickens of my own, and kept them in an enclosure beside my garage, but that is another story. I was already appalled at what I had read about the treatment of poultry at factory farms. It just seemed right, to keep chickens. I once told a few people that when we die, we will go to hell, and waiting to meet us will be the souls of trillions of chickens, who have never seen the sun, confined to cages their entire lives, all insane, and ready to peck our eyes out. Braak! That was a good eyeball! Only a dollar a pound! I do believe I'll have another! BRAAK!
Nick expanded to raising turkeys, all of them pets. They are too large to take on the bus, so he built a large rolling cage, which he has to push over a mile to get to the coffee shop. He really enjoys showing them to people. One day, he brought a full grown Tom, which was so large that it occupied the entire cart. He usually allows his birds to walk around, and they amuse themselves by looking for insects in the planter boxes, and accepting pieces of cake from the patrons of the coffee shop. I usually like to hang around for this. I have had a lot of interesting discussions , about farming and agribusiness, with all the people that gather around Nick's birds. Nick personally wouldn't eat a chicken for any reason. He just likes them.
The large turkey that Nick brought to the shop that day was just as intimidating as the one I met before, but I wanted to make friends with it. I asked Nick if it would be alright if I gave the turkey some of my banana. He said that he wasn't sure if it would eat banana, because he had never fed that to the bird, but that it was alright with him. So I gave the bird a small piece.
It is a bit unnerving to feed a turkey by hand. The entire neck is like an axe handle, which descends rapidly, so that it can seize the food. Nick said to keep my hand open and flat, because it is not pleasant, if the turkey happens to bite a finger. The turkey really, really, liked the piece of banana, and wanted more.
I kept feeding the turkey, and realized that I soon would run out of banana. When I was a child, we were driving through Yellowstone Park, and a man was feeding a bear from his car window. My mother told me that the bears were known to get angry sometimes when people ran out of food, and might rip your arm off. I remembered this, and started feeding pieces of the banana peel to Nick's increasingly aggressive bird. Unfortunately, he found this even more delicious than the fruit of the banana.
Finally, I completely lost it, and ran into the coffee shop, chased by the turkey. Nick, fortunately, was highly skilled at turkey management, and using arm guestures, guided the bird back into his cage.
Nick no longer has this bird, but he has several smaller turkeys, commercial wild turkeys, which are a breed which resembles the wild ones that are becoming more common on the roads near us. I get along with these birds. He said the large Toms are over bred, and that he lost the Tom when it was startled by a siren. He said it died of a heart attack. Everyone misses the bird a lot.
All the jokes you hear about them are a bit off. The turkey is a noble bird.