Wild Turkey

wild turkey

Philadelphia is one of the nation’s most important cities, culturally iconic, socially complex, eminently livable. Like other major metropolitan centers it has a dark side characterized by heartbreaking poverty, despair, and brute violence.

As readers of my 1st novel – MOONLIT TOURS – will recall, I worked as a cabby there way back when. During that time, one of my fellow drivers was robbed and murdered; shot through the back of his head. They found him wrapped around his steering wheel, brains painted onto the windshield.

A year later I was attacked by a gang of punks, beaten in the face with lead pipes, and dumped in a snow bank to die.

I have spent most of my life in urban settings and consequently developed a rather philosophical attitude towards mortality; a city is a place of police cars, ambulances, fire engines and endless news reports of senseless death described, and illustrated, in lurid detail. One is tempted to sigh and say, “Yes, so it goes.”

But that serene, dispassionate indifference left me when I relocated to the country and had to confront wild animals face to face on a daily basis.

Just over two years ago I moved to a New Hampshire hamlet so small it does not have a stoplight, gas station, or Starbucks. The rallying point of this burg is a tiny post office with an uncertain future. One day I was getting my mail and who should walk in but our Chief Of Police. He recognized me immediately and we exchanged pleasantries. Commanding a full-time force of 4 police officers allows him to take a personal approach to his work.

I began to relate the story of Tom, nicknamed “The Tominator” by my wife, who has a flair for such things. Tom is a rogue wild turkey who, presumably as a result of turkey crimes too terrible to contemplate, has become separated from his tribe and now works alone.

I am accustomed to watching flocks of wild turkeys ambling through the yard, leisurely pecking the ground, but a solo Tom is new. Snood flapping casually, Tom brazenly walks up and down the center of the road in front of our house, a busy thoroughfare where one may see trucks and even school buses. His arrogance and disdain are limitless, and traffic has become increasingly deferential – he is now something of a local celebrity.

We reviewed all this in the Post Office, and the Chief confessed that “dealing with Tom” was high on his To Do list. He revealed that he had a net at home. Tom, we agreed, was a danger to himself and others…it’s just a matter off time…we nodded in unison…Fish & Game had been called.

Tom has not been seen for many days, and I like to imagine that he has been captured and relocated to the tourist country of northern New Hampshire where he now resides in a resort for wayward, unruly wild turkeys. I can accept nothing less, because, as a daily visitor who liked to sneak snacks from beneath our bird feeder, he was practically a family member. But this is not where the story ends.

A few days ago I was driving down a back road and had to stop as a large flock of wild turkeys, perhaps twenty, crossed. If you have never seen one of these magnificent animals, which Benjamin Franklin nominated over the bald eagle for National Bird status, they are amazing. Imagine a blue-collar peacock, stately, slow, immense, with a truly commanding presence.

Absentmindedly I followed each one as it ambled to the other side, wondering about Tom. I noticed a long, cylindrical shaft protruding from the feathers of one. At first I thought it was a random feather refusing to lie down next to the rest, then I realized I was looking at the back half of an arrow. Not a nice, wooden arrow from the colonial era. No, this was a state-of-the-art, fluorescent green missile made of high-performance polymers, bouncing as the turkey walked.

Clearly it was embedded enough to remain, but not enough to injure the bird.

I considered trying to remove the dreadful thing but thought better of it. Then we made eye contact and I imagined him saying these words to me.

“What’s the matter, moron, never saw anyone shot in the ass before? New in town? This shit happens, buddy. No sense being sentimental about it. I’m wild, can you dig it? That’s why they call me a wild turkey. Takes more than a little DuPont plastic in the hands of some half-blind, half-drunk hunter to slow this bad boy down. Now quit staring and piss off.”

Published by Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability. Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado's continental divide, and inner city cabbie. Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.