7:06 a.m. 36 degrees, wind W 1 mph (stuffing on the stove. Turkey, brined
and patted dry, lounges in the refrigerator). Sky: an iteration of
yesterday. A gray, tightly fitted sheet releases a proverbial wintry mix .
. . snow, rain, sleet. Road, a path of frozen slush. Permanent streams:
above the culvert, the road glazed and treacherous, a skating rink. On my
feet, the wrong shoes, slipping and sliding. Dogs take charge. Wetlands:
evergreens on the far shore softened by the rising mist, the falling
rain—deer trails, ribbons of flattened reeds, marshland sutures, run
lengthwise from pines to alders. A blue jay, grayer than blue, heads north,
his voice trailing behind him. Just before seven-thirty, the town
sanding-truck passes. Pond: puddles on ice. Time-lapse geology, a glimpse
into the formation of sedimentary rock . . . sandstone, limestone, shale.
Locked within the ice, a brief history of the week, evanescent
sedimentation—surface ice, snow, rain, freeze, rain. The Pleistocene writ
small upon the pond. Milkweed seeds and maple leaves, like stray mammoths,
embedded, covered by a cold rainwater bath, soon to harden.
Nineteen turkeys mill in the yard. Three practice masculinity, pompously
strutting, tails fanned, wings drooped. The rest, ignoring the
out-of-season histrionics, gorge on spilled sunflower seeds and barnyard
acorns. And then, at the sight of me, all disperse, a troop of feathered
bumble-bees, big body, small wings—a discharge of buxom birds, more glide
than flap. Into oaks and maples, dark knobs on distant trees. Branches sag.
When the Pilgrims landed, wild turkey ranged across the eastern half of the
United States west to Arizona and south to Montezuma's halls. By the middle
of the nineteenth century, they were gone from New England. In 1969 and
1970, thirty-one wild turkeys from western New York were released in
Vermont. Originally native only to the four southern counties, wild turkeys
prospered. Today, Vermont's population approaches fifty thousand. Residents
of every county, every woodlot, every ensemble of farm and pasture and
forest. Turkeys have also been introduced into several western states,
southern Canada, Hawaii, Germany, and New Zealand.
During the past half-century, while the wild turkey prospered, the domestic
turkey has grown fatter, weaker, slower, and dumber. Over-breeding to
satisfy our craving for white meat has left domestic turkeys so
pathetically plump that it can't make little turkeys without our help.
Domestic turkeys attempting to mate look like two footballs, rocking and
rolling: their legs too small, their chests too large.
Selective breeding left domestic turkeys flightless and witless. But while
they are a bubble-off-plumb with the IQ of wood chips, it's a myth that
they drown looking up in a rainstorm. In fact, turkeys can't look up; their
eyes are on the side of their heads, and they lack binocular vision. Still,
the bird can't be too bright for such an unflattering rumor to catch on.
Darwin chose pigeon breeds to demonstrate the analogy between
artificial selection and natural selection. If he were alive today, he
might have had fun illustrating that point with domestic turkey.
The wild turkeys in the naked oaks hold their position; rain drips off
their beaks. As I approach, they exit the trees, glide across the upper
pasture, land in the lower, and rush into the woods, ambulatory, unlike the
bird now browning in my oven.