A visit from the Godturkey

A few months ago, I read an article about plant blindness, which the BBC described as a human tendency to overlook the natural world around us; to not notice, for example, the everyday miracles of dandelions growing halfway up a tree trunk, or grass defiantly sprouting through a running track.

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I suspect many people suffer from animal blindness, too.

But it’s hard to not notice when you open the front door to find a deceased turkey, the size of the one that Ebenezer Scrooge sent to the Cratchits — “not the little prize turkey, the big one!” — lying in the middle of your yard.

Like so:

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Although I have, in months past, removed both a dead fox and a dead skunk from the center of the road for proper burial, this bird had 20 pounds on them, at least.  My shovels were all at the donkey barn, and besides, burying the bird would have taken an awfully big hole, the sort that might attract the attention of authorities.

Moreover, there was the problem that I noticed when I crept closer to make sure the turkey wasn’t breathing.

There was no head attached to the neck.

“Have you made anybody mad this week?” my mother asked when I called.

A tougher person would have grabbed the bird by its gnarly, dinosaur feet and hauled it into the woods behind my house.  I. Could. Not.

This was a new reticence, since I’ve lately become the person who has to insert herself into every small drama of nature. If there is a worm under attack by ants on the sidewalk, or a caterpillar inching slowly across a busy road, it’s as if I’ve been summoned by Artemis herself, trilling the theme song of Mighty Mouse:  Here I come to save the day!

This is not always good for the animals I purport to rescue.

Last year, during turtle mating season, a time of almost unbearable stress for me and my ilk, I stopped to “help” a turtle cross the road.

As it turned out, the turtle — a snapper the size of a hubcab — did not want help.

He lunged and hissed at me, then sat there, defiant as the grass growing through the Hopkinton High School track.

About this time, a gruff man in a red pick-up truck pulled up. This was a curving, two-lane, death-trap of a road that makes New England so picturesque and so dangerous for anyone dumb enough to stand in the middle of one arguing with a snapping turtle.

I waved my arms helplessly in a gesture of despair. He climbed out of the truck, and I asked if he had a shovel. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Don’t need no shovel,” he said, and marched over to the enraged turtle, which he picked up by the tail and slung to the side of the road like an Olympian in the discus-throw competition as I sputtered in helpless outrage.

“There,” he said. He wiped his hands on his jeans and got back in the truck, muttering something unkind.

I returned to my car and drove away meekly,  knowing that the turtle would likely have been better off had I just driven on by, instead of insisting on saving the day.

Not that this has changed my behavior. I have “rescued” other turtles since.  Some with better outcomes. Not all.

So it was good, in a sense, that the lawn turkey had already passed before I showed up.

But there was still the problem of what to do with the body.  Not knowing what to do, I decided to do nothing.  

That’s usually the best thing to do when you don’t know what to do. 

And sure enough, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw LLC solved the problem for me.

 The next morning, the body had been moved a few inches.

The next day, a few foot or so more.

On the fourth day, one of the gnarly, dinosaur feet was missing.

And when the sun dawned on the fifth day, she was gone.  Nothing left but a pile of feathers. 

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There is a moral to this story — there always is —  but damned if I know it. Perhaps it is, things don’t always have to be buried.  One creature’s rotting, decaying corpse is, of course, another’s lunch. The wise and wonderful Jon Katz, with great reverence, takes the remains of his animals out to the woods, where others can feed. Had I buried the turkey, others would have died in her place.

This is not an argument for body farms, where human remains lie above ground so forensic scientists can study how bodies decompose. Or maybe it is.  We are all food sheaths, Joseph Campbell wrote; we are made out of food and we become food when we die. 

Care for the dying and dead is an act of reverence, too, which is why I sometimes take the time to bury a fallen bird or run-over skunk, or to provide hospice for a mouse mortally wounded. Human beings kill so many things, intentionally and not, in the course of a day, a life. It seems a moral imperative that we extend a kindness, however small, when animals suffer. As its consciousness, such as it is, flickers out, the last thing that every creature should know is that someone cared.

But those are the musings of a certified animal nutjob. Entertain them at your own risk, because there’s a whole lot of pain to be had when you get too involved in the lives of animals.

Meanwhile, this turkey that I passed on a recent run seems to have figured out how to stay safe — from predators, and from me.

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