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The prehistoric turkeys of Siskiyou Boulevard

A flock of wild turkeys frequents a field near Holmes Park. Like any gang, they act as if they own the place. Unconcerned, they amble in the middle of the street, tramp across lawns and gardens, forage, relieve themselves and scatter a messy trail of very big feathers.

I’d never seen a flock of turkeys in town before. Weeks later I spotted them in a nearby cemetery, then in the condos on 11th Street. On an evening walk just blocks from my house, I counted 24 birds. It seems the turkeys have woven themselves into the fabric of the neighborhood.

Each sighting of the incredible creatures reminds me these modern birds contain their ancestors, the dinosaurs. Their every mannerism and extreme focus reflects their reptilian DNA. Every morning the synchronized foraging team moves from house to house, lawn to lawn as folks sleepily sip coffee and load kids, laptops and backpacks into cars and race away to begin the day.

Sufficiently intrigued by their daily presence, I decided to educate myself by watching Joe Hutto, the wildlife naturalist, in “My Life as a Turkey” (The DVD is available at library). Hutto took a clutch of wild turkey eggs and incubated them. When the hatchlings appeared, they already knew his voice and quickly imprinted on his face. He became “mother” to 16 tiny birds that quickly grew to adulthood in the nearly two years he spent with them.

One memorable morning as I turned onto Siskiyou Boulevard, the turkeys stood grouped on the sidewalk like they were waiting for a bus. As I sped toward them, one of the imposing males spread his wings authoritatively and made a movement toward my car. I got the message — slow down — and I did.

Wild turkeys are 20 million years old, born “knowing” which bugs to eat, which snakes to avoid and how to survive in the wild. What they lack, as I now understand, is a blueprint for automobiles.

These birds have a misplaced reputation for stupidity. From my observations and those of the former turkey whisperer, the truth is the opposite. They possess an extensive language with many inflections that change the meanings of each call. They are social, affectionate and tactile. In his time with the birds, Hutto came to believe they were teaching him how to live his life.

“Their ability to understand the world goes much further than communication,” Hutto emphasizes. “They are more conscious and more present than we are, so in the moment.”

Perhaps the example of how to truly live life is the gift of the wild turkeys. The turkeys are not just raiding your yard, they are emissaries reminding us that the present moment, not some abstracted future — this now — is as good as it gets.


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