WE’RE COMING INTO ALMOST EVERYBODY’S favorite season, at least for those who place food high on their list of priorities. However you approach food (we know for a fact that you put a high value on knowing where and how your food got here or you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place), summer and fall bring a virtual mother lode of vegetables, fruit and meat to the table. Farmers now get to reap the profits from their summer-long labors and we get to enjoy the results of their efforts. (Years ago, we printed a beautiful blessing in which those people responsible for growing and preparing the food were singled out and thanked specifically. Not a bad idea—next time you’re at the farmers’ market, thank the person you’re buying from for growing and harvesting the stuff you’re about to ingest. Believe it—it means something to them.)
That’s not the smoothest segue ever written, but it sort of brings us into the meat of this letter—turkeys. These truly marvelous birds are a model reintroduction success story. After being pushed to near-extinction for various reasons, not the least of which was the ignorant and indiscriminate use of DDT (also one of the principal causes of the near-annihilation of our other great national bird, the bald eagle). Once that chemical was banned (except from some of the countries we import our food from), breeding and relocation programs allowed the birds to re-establish in comfortable environs. It was, and remains, one of the all-time best reintroduction programs of any species, anywhere. The fact is, today, if you have patience, you stand a passing chance of spotting a flock of these beasts almost everywhere except in the deep cities.
Every school kid in first grade learns the apocryphal story of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans and the turkey dinner and the corn and the gravy, etc., etc. It’s not until grad school that we learn it’s all a lie—Native Americans didn’t like gravy, for one thing, and we broke all the treaties and stole all the land and killed off all the wildlife and paved over everything so we would have to—again—rely on someone else to grow our food for us.
Ben Franklin suggested the turkey be our national symbol—he touted the bird’s intelligence, resourcefulness and general attitude. Of course, we all know that the Congress (not a heck of a lot smarter then than the current bunch) thought differently and chose as our national symbol a scavenger, looter and slow learner.
There were plenty of reasons why Franklin’s choice was a wise one, but it was doomed even before he could plug his kite in. Really, could we justify or condone eating our national bird once a year? Would it be against the law to have oyster stuffing? What kind of national symbol prefers life in the deep woods, well camouflaged, communicating in code? And if you’ve ever seen a turkey fly, you know it’s not the prettiest profile in the world, and it probably wouldn’t fit on a coin.
So there we have it—musings over the cover photo of a tom in full show at Veritas Farms, in New Paltz. We get to go to the river to watch eagles—so protected that it’s illegal to possess even a feather—their brilliant white head plumage spottable from a half mile away. Then we can go home to feast on a bird that coulda been a contender.