Although I am a bird lover, and although I will bear the figurative feathers of the Virginia Tech hokie for life, I have no real affection for wild turkeys. So the graceless gobblers I have been crossing paths with lately did not stop my heart or steal my breath. They did not, like so many other birds and wildlife, send my spirit into spiraled flight or get me all inspired.
Or did they? After all, here I am writing about them. And, as I have discovered, there are some quite interesting tidbits about turkeys. Here are a few:
- Not only can turkeys fly, however awkwardly, but they actually roost up in trees at night.
- Benjamin Franklin, known for his wisdom and inventiveness and diplomacy, was an unabashed advocate for making the wild turkey America’s national bird. Indeed, he wrote some rather scathing criticisms of the bald eagle, though ultimately in vain. (In the long run, it may be best that Franklin and the wild turkey lost out, since patriotic sentimentality was crucial in saving the bald eagle from extinction. At the same time, though, perhaps America would have better luck with foreign policy if the wild turkey were its symbol. I personally would much rather have the U.S. criticized as “The Great Turkey” than the “The Great Satan”! And perhaps this bird might have given a different spirit to our approach to foreign policy in the first place….)
- Turkeys are extremely curious birds. When it rains, they will stare up into the sky as if pondering the mystery of water droplets hitting them in the face. This habit led to the old wives’ tale that, unlike their promoter Gentle Ben, they were extremely and tragically stupid–so stupid that they would drown themselves by staring up into the rain too long!
Now, almost everyone knows Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale “The Ugly Duckling.” Unfortunately, the metaphor just does not extend to turkeys. Turkeys are plain old ugly from the egg to the grave. What with that gangly neck, the funky wattle and snood flapping from their heads…and that face! Sorry, turkey fans, but I just am not going to put a poster featuring that mug up on my wall.
Still, me being me, I cannot help pondering these things a bit more as the turkeys run to and fro, gobbling like mad as I walk by. I mean, however “ugly” I think they are, there are still turkeys aplenty doing their little turkey trot day in and day out. There are still little ugly turkey chicks turning into big ugly turkey adults. There are still those strange turkey gobbles coming out of the woods.
This leads me to think about all the “ugly” things in nature. You know, all those things that we just do not like, cannot figure out a purpose for, would like to see eradicated or at the very least moved elsewhere. You know, the weeds you dig (but hopefully do not try to poison) out from the flowerbed or garden, the mosquitoes you swat at and coat yourself in spray to avoid, the pollen that makes you sneeze and coats your car, the spiders and snakes and other creepy crawly things that face execution upon sight should they scuttle across your kitchen floor.
Yes, we rational human animals judge so much out in nature to be nonsensical, annoying, frightening, disturbing…UGLY.
Yet there is still no lack of ugliness in nature. All of those ugly things keep on living their ugly lives no matter how ugly we find them. As we human beings keep on lording it over each other and the rest of the natural world, disrespecting and killing ourselves and everything lying in our path, the ugly things in nature endure, thrive, without repentance, without getting a makeover, without refashioning themselves to fit our wishes–or our image. When the nuclear dust has settled, we have always (surely rightly) been told, the cockroaches will still be there, scuttling around in all their ugliness.
Even as I cringe and chuckle when the wild turkeys go crashing through the brush, I cringe and chuckle at myself and my own rush to judgment. I think about how many other things in nature I find ugly or annoying or purposeless. And then I think about all the things in nature I love, all the things I find beautiful, all the things I carry with me in my heart, all the things that live within me and therefore let me live.
Nature, then, is big enough to embrace the lovely things and the ugly things, the unforgettable things and the things we would rather forget, the beautiful swans and the ugly ducklings…and the ugly turkeys…and even long, tall, and ugly old me writing about the ugly old turkeys. (And I have no doubt, by the way, that the turkeys feel the same about me as I do about them.)
Nature is big enough to embrace and give life to all of these things because nature is all of these things. Nature is sacred with all of its different faces because nature is those faces.
Nature’s face is beautiful even with all of its so-called “blemishes,” and in many ways because of those things we call blemishes, including the wild turkey…though I still am not putting up a poster of one.