Dear Mr. Turkey,
I want to take a moment at this time of year to write a special note to you, Mr. Turkey. I know that November is a very busy month for you, but maybe you can find a few minutes in your cramped and demanding schedule to read some thoughtful words.
I hope this letter finds you well. I’ve been thinking much of you as the year turns to cold once again. Remember when you were just a little poult, still wet and sticky coming out of the egg? I was there to watch your transformation into a kicking, wriggly creature. Remember when I reached inside the warm, humid world of the incubator and brought you into the light of the cardboard brooder box in our house? That was spring, which seems a long time ago now.
You were always a very curious fellow, Mr. Turkey. Everything was worth exploring to you, with your buggy black eyes sticking out the sides of your head, blinking at me. You’d stretch out your long fuzzy neck to snatch a fly, pull at a colorful piece of shredded paper bedding, or grab at a dangling string from my hooded sweatshirt. That stove box in our house was a micro-haven for your early days — dry, warm and safe from harm.
But then you grew too big for the box. You wanted to run and jump and fly, so we made space for you in the chicken coop. There was so much to explore — new corners, new faces and eventually the outdoors. At first, you didn’t know what to make of all the sunlight and green grass, but soon you learned to love being outside of the coop. There were bugs to catch and blue skies and new creatures to discover like chickens, ducks and our sheep dog Finlee.
That was summertime, which also slips away like a fading dream. But oh, remember the day (when you had grown much bigger with sleek gray feathers) that you moved into your outdoor portable pen? We called it a “tractor” but you just called it “home.” With a roof over your head and wire sides to keep you safe, you could be outside, all the time! We pulled and pushed that tractor each day, so you and your friends could have fresh grass and a clean place to sleep.
When it was time to move the pens, you would be right up at the front, waiting for any unsuspecting grasshopper or cricket and, GULP, it would be all yours! Share with your friends? Well, they had to catch their own food. Remember those sunny summer days, watching the sheep graze contentedly in the waving grass, or the hens scratching dust holes to clean themselves?
But sometimes you were foolish, Mr. Turkey, and I would have to look out for you. In the house, when you still lived in the box, you thought it would be a great adventure to jump out! You didn’t know that you would get cold and wouldn’t find food or water out there, so I kept a window screen on top to keep you from hurting yourself.
There were times when you thought it might be fun to escape your tractor home. You didn’t know that there were owls and fishers and raccoons and foxes and many other creatures that would be happy to have you for dinner. And there were times when you wouldn’t get out of the rain, so I’d run out and tie tarps down with the wind and wet pelting my face, just to make sure you wouldn’t drown or catch cold and stand there shivering all through the night.
We went through quite a bit together, didn’t we Mr. Turkey. From the hot and dry days of August to the pelting snow more recently, we’ve almost seen it all. And now the year is coming to a close, which means that there are many changes on the homestead.
Some of your friends were chosen to join the flock of momma and poppa turkeys. We’ll keep their eggs in the spring to hatch a new group of big-eyed, wobbly-legged poults for yet another summer out in the grass and the sunshine. The cycle will start again, with new adventures and challenges.
But you, my dear friend, have a special role to play in this cycle, which is just as important as the breeding flock. Many have come before you and many will come after you that have participated in a special commemoration of life and renewal. This seasonal festivity is called Thanksgiving, which means that folks gather together with friends and family to mark the bounty of the harvest, the ties of community and the value of giving thanks for what we have.
You are a special guest at this ceremony, Mr. Turkey, where everyone will admire you for your beauty and quality. As the people sit together and enjoy your presence, I hope they take some time to sense the sunshine, the fresh air, the green grass and the happiness that are all a part of you, along with the compassionate and concerned care that was a meaningful piece of your rearing.
Not everyone gets to be the focus of attention, but you Mr. Turkey are a special bird. We deserve to celebrate your uniqueness and joy in life. May we all learn from you to find pleasure in small and simple things and to enjoy each moment as it is. And if you do get a second chance at life, maybe you’ll be happy enough to tell me that life really was pretty good down on the farm.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. She can be reached at 715-462-3453 or www.northstarhomestead.com