So I just saw the most amazing thing. It was a turkey.
I have been watching turkeys parade through my yard for months. I live in the upper peninsula of Michigan, in Iron County, a depressed area (in the human scale) that used to be busy, obviously, mining iron. My parents came from here, but I moved here 8 years ago. Like deer and some other critters like fox, turkeys are a form of suburban-lifestyle entertainment in these small U.P. towns. Turkeys wander across the lawns and streets, long-legged hopeful harvesters, particularly in winter when they can’t access the often minuscule bits of God-Knows-What from the landscape, due to snow cover.
This last winter I accidentally started feeding them. I have a general policy of not feeding the “wildlife”, but that policy is breached by my window bird feeder. If you, personally, can think of anything more touching and inspiring and enlivening for a (basically) 6 month winter, than having birds lighting all day on the other side of your kitchen window, I would like to hear it. Really. So, this last winter in honor of the winter solstice holidays, I thought to treat my birds, mostly chickadees, with some classier fare; a wild bird seed mix. It contained millet and a bit of thistle seed and whatever. My usual feed is plain old sunflower seed.
However, it turned out that the chickadees were somewhat at a loss as to how to deal with the new feed. They pulled the sunflower seeds out of the mix. So, I thought to throw the rest on the ground for the turkeys who regularly filed through my yard. And they were thrilled. Thus began a new commitment; the turkey feeding project (perhaps it balances the turkey-feeding-HUMAN project that preceded it). Once they had been invited to my yard for dinner, it was difficult to see them in the mornings through a very difficult winter that plunged, and stayed, in well below zero temperatures for weeks. I did despair of their very survival, which doesn’t matter if you’re not invested; Mother Nature is always balancing her life forms, and I trust her. However, the very day I decided to feed them, I was invested. I felt responsible, a truth that folks around me who feed the deer and the birds are all too well aware of.
So what happened, is today I saw this turkey cock in a light I had never seen one before. It was the exactly correct light, I suppose, to make the bird more-than-… what? More than real, in the sense of what we hold to be consensus reality. As a person who did some recreational use of psychedelics in my day, I would say that it was a psychedelic experience. Maybe Benjamin Franklin, that naughty dead white guy, had a similar experience, inspiring his admiration. The sun being low, maybe 4:30 PM, I saw the little flock approaching my yard. I watched them from my porch window, because I am aware that the tom is displaying now. I had seen the display before, yesyes; this morning, in fact. And that was pretty fun, as the tom reminded me of some people I know.
He not only spent as much time as he could, while the flock was pecking at the cracked corn I threw, on his display (which was totally awesome). He also decided, like a fashion model, that his best background was an old lilac bush, currently devoid of leaves, of course. But his sense of aesthetics somehow told him this more or less centrally located backdrop was going to give him the best shot. He fanned and puffed his face out in red, white and blue, cocking his head back so that it met the pillowing Elizabethan collar of feathers behind it.
He stood all body feathers up, fanned his black and white barred wings meticulously, and swept them dramatically to the ground, like trailing kimono sleeves. He slowly pirouetted, reeking of regal dignity. Once in a while he was seized with a spasm of irrepressible gobbling, which kinda broke the kingly character. Over and over again. Meanwhile, everybody else in the family went about their business, seemingly unaware that a superstar lived in their midst. They appeared to be thinking, “Don’t pay him any attention, it only makes it worse. He’ll get over it.” When they were sated with cracked corn, they filed away up the hill as usual, while the resident performer toddled after, stiff-legged, seemingly reluctant to give up the stage, compulsively fanning and puffing his marvelous spring costume and makeup.
So yeah, 4:30 in the ‘hood, and the turkeys wend their way through my front yard, to the corn serving area. The goodies are on the east side of the house, so that’s where everyone’s pecking away, jostling for position as the Galliformes are wont to do. The tom pecked up a snack and, anxious to get back to his exciting new gobble-and-dance gig, toddled around the corner of the porch. He stopped a couple feet away from me, the human gawking in my glassed observatory, like he knew just what he was after. He turned slowly so the lowering sun was on his side, hit the costume switch, and the sun lit him up like a live disco ball.
Gold and copper knives of light flashed from his back and tail. The darker back feathers shone in multiple reds, blues, and greens as he carefully turned just enough to catch the sun on the optimal number of iridescent facets. I was transfixed by the transformation the light made on his head and wattles, which are usually red, a very pale blue, almost white, and a darker blue. The sun changed this mask of ballooning flesh into what I can only describe as a black light painting. Gone were the usual colors, for it was now a fluorescent blend of lavender, pinks, and blues that ranged from a soft sky blue or cerulean to a lovely deep turquoise.
And thus in a flash does Gaia gift her mind blowing miracles. Less than a minute, and Tom was busy checking out staging possibilities under a fir tree, and the show was over. I was stunned, of course; I felt like I had seen what it was like to be him, in some way. A month ago, he was just growing out his chest beard, and his face looked like a super awful case of acne, which is true for the rest of his family still. But now, he is overjoyed to have transcended, to fulfill his highest masculine turkey potential. The Wikipedia article claims that turkey cocks with nicer beards and other feathers head flocks where hens lay more eggs. That extra egg or two is like tipping the cabaret dancer, I guess; an ovarian show of female appreciation. I would gladly have laid an egg for him if I could, for I regret I had no way to applaud the show. For those who read my interpretation of Echo and Narcissus, this turkey show is a perfect example of the radiant masculine.
It seemed to me this rite of spring is an annual pact between tom and Gaia, where she gets him really high for X number of weeks or months, in order to open up the cosmic portals of love and light through his beautiful body. He’s strutting around suffused with the light of other realms, and only he can usually see it, so he keeps fanning and puffing and turning and posing, occasionally yelling angrily at everyone to check him out; gobblegobblegobblegobble! I’m sure lots of performing artists can relate. It’s just a trick of the light, who gets to perceive life beyond the usual colors we’ve learned to paint it. Just a trick of the light.
Of course for myself, the event had me high for hours. It felt like a benediction of the most profound sort, this long-legged bundle of feathers playing to the firmament, as Dar Williams puts it. Before you go rushing out to find turkeys to watch, be aware; this is seasonal stuff, ya know? It’s our Upper Peninsula reward for tolerating months of cold, ice, snow removal, and light deprivation. Or maybe that’s just a lie we tell ourselves to keep the faith until spring’s miracles light up our world in colorful fireworks of love. Works for me!