It is winter and yet we torture ourselves with daily walks. It is as if to harden ourselves and is reminiscent of “The Siege of Leningrad,” “The Retreat of Napoleon’s Army of the Republic,” and “Scott’s March to the South Pole.” Hmm, none of those worked out so well in the end.
I was delighted this morning during my morning walk to come across these wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, tracks in the newly fallen snow – accentuated here by the pavement below. When I was in graduate school in upstate New York the turkey was a rare bird, and the joke was that the hunting season was so short so as to protect “the stupid birds.” I do not call birds stupid anymore and respect enormously the evolutionary endurance of these “dinosaurs.” In Massachusetts they disappeared 160 years ago and the state brought them back. So now they are everywhere.
You may have heard that Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird. Apparently this is not true. In a letter to his daughter Franklin objected to the Bald Eagle and commented that the bird on seal looked more like a wild turkey than an Eagle.
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Much more turkey lore relates to its consumption on American Thanksgiving, and there is decent evidence that the wild form was served at the First Thanksgiving. But it did not become the modern stable of Thanksgiving until way into the 19th century. Although and significantly another Revolutionary Luminary, Alexander Hamilton did say, or is reported to have said that:
“No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”