There is a time for every season: “A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to gather up.” I mark the season with a sycamore tree in my yard. Winter, it is bare-limbed. Spring the leaves are light, minty green. Now, the leaves are telling me winter is coming. In late summer, the leaves start turning a hard, dull green, and as fall progresses, the leaves turn a beautiful golden color. If I lived out in the country, I would see gangs of wild turkeys feasting on acorns to fatten up for the lean winter months.
Think about the first European explorers to North America seeing a turkey for the first time. It was a magnificent bird. They brought the large birds back to Europe, where they became a popular dish for feasts. Turkeys were raised in the Levant region known as Turkey, so the name “turkey” stuck. Those birds were bred for meat, not brains. We’ve all heard, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down,” or “turkeys are so dumb that they drowned in the rain.” The truth is wild turkeys are wily birds. They were hunted almost to extinction. They learned to fade into the deep woods. Listen to conversations of a group of turkey hunters; you will be surprised at the lengths they go to bag a turkey. It takes skill, and a lot of patience.
Benjamin Franklin thought the wild turkey should be the symbol of the United States over the bald eagle. The eagle was a thief and a scavenger, while the turkey was a savvy bird who could elude hunters. They can walk, run, and fly strongly.
I have wonderful memories of our American wild turkey. The first time I saw these birds in the wild, my father and I were bouncing across a field in his work truck. There were twenty-five turkeys at the edge of the woods. As soon as they saw the truck, they all flew off deep into the trees. They were there, and then they were gone. Their brown and gold coloring helped them fade into the dark forest. It was a fantastic sight.
Don’t mess with a wild turkey, either. On one of my many road trips, I was in northern Minnesota. There, on the side of the road was an enormous male turkey all puffed up, and shaking his magnificent tail. It was a beautiful fall scene. The trees were golden and burnt orange. I had to photograph him. He stopped his strutting and gobbling. He turned. He looked at me. Before I knew it, he was flying toward me. I rolled my window up just in time. He hit the side of the van with his talons extended, and I heard the claws scratch the side of the truck. This turkey was not a dumb, defenseless bird. It was a proud, untamed, and extraordinary bird.
It is fall. The leaves on that sycamore are turning golden. It is time to go out, and attempt to see a wild turkey — one magnificent bird.