The picture below was taken by Seven J Outfitters on land adjacent to our ranch. I do not know these hunters but no doubt I’ve seen this turkey’s brethren foraging on our hay meadow. These are the same turkeys my son and daughter watched through the seasons when growing up, including hunting season. “If they’re too many jakes,” my son once told me, “they’ll harass the nesting hens, and not enough eggs will hatch.” He used to spend days out in the woods, studying the bands of wild turkeys. If this photo stirs you in any way, I hope you’ll respond by posting a comment.
In the fall, the wild turkeys that I used to share this land with loved to graze the acorns that gathered beneath the bur oaks. They also loved the hay meadows, where it was harder for a coyote or bob cat to sneak up on them. I imagine they still do.
Had the 46 million domestic turkeys eaten this week been born wild, like the Merriam’s wild turkey of the ponderosa forests of the West, only 25 percent of them might have survived beyond their first few weeks of life. Those that did might have lived for a year or two, maybe three, but it’s the rare and wise wild turkey that could escape both disease and predation to see a tenth birthday.
Like the coyotes who prey on the turkeys, I find myself mostly at peace with the role of predator. My eyes, like the coyote’s or the eagle’s or the mountain lion’s or the fox, are located in the front of my head. My teeth, too, are designed for tearing flesh. I trust nature’s grand design. What I am not at peace with are the insidious and mutated forms of predation that now seem to define our species.
Yesterday, with the taste of Thanksgiving still lingering on my tongue, and memories still stirring my heart, I read an article on the New York Time’s book editors’ top 10 reads for 2009. Dwight Garner’s selections included the memoir Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. “A moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world,” wrote the publisher Penguin Press, “and what we’ve given up to live the way we do.”
The intersection of anything rural and urban intrigues me. Here was a memoir about a young woman who grubbed out a small garden plot from a dirt lot in a drug-infested ghetto in Oakland and started growing not only herbs and vegetables, but ducks and rabbits and even two Red Duroc pigs. I clicked on a link to Garner’s June 11 book review:
“At heart,” he writes, “Farm City is more about Ms. Carpenter’s experiences with livestock than it is about growing plump tomatoes. In fact Farm City is a serious, if tragicomic, meditation on raising and then killing your own animals. She wants to have “a dialogue with life,” she writes, and realizes she can do that only by also having a dialogue with death.”Bravo, Ms. Carpenter! We Americans shy away from death, or at least from hands-on death. We shy away from admitting that nothing lives that something does not die. We rarely anoint our own dead, and rarely wonder about the lives of the things we eat to nourish our own bodies.
Yesterday I was also reading High Country News. I came across Andrea Appleton’s review of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa Hamilton. (November 9, High Country News). “In this narrative nonfiction book,” writes the publisher, “Hamilton tells three stories, of an African-American dairyman in Texas who plays David to the Goliath of agribusiness corporations; a tenth-generation rancher in New Mexico struggling to restore agriculture as a pillar of his community; and a modern pioneer family in North Dakota…” Click here for a SLIDE SHOW of the people in these three stories. Click here to read Appleton’s REVIEW, “For farmers, small is beautiful.”
This year’s turkey carcass has been simmering on the stove for two days. When I took the pot out of the refrigerator this morning, the broth was a thick, protein-rich gelatin. The meat is now stripped from the bones and I’m about to dice the celery and chop the onions and shred the carrots. Making this soup feels like an act of gratitude, a prayerful way to spend a few hours regardless of whether the turkey lived a wild life, or a confined one. But I will miss the slight taste of wild acorns that used to grace the Thanksgiving soup I made back at the ranch. I will squeeze all the intimacy from these bones that I can—each leg bone, each rib, each featherless and flightless wing.
Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, Counterpoint Press, May, 2009.
Farm City, Novella Carpenter, The Penguin Press, June, 2009.