Rhiannon’s Wild Turkey:
A Lesson in the Gift of Death and Resilience of Life
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Life is neither as fragile nor as tenuous as we are led to believe. Women are not generally in danger if they give birth at home, not all health conditions require pharmaceutical intervention, and the loss of liberty is more of a threat than any terrorist. We are bombarded with stories and images of violence and illness in part because the medical and insurance industries profit from and work hard to heighten the fear of death, and most or perhaps all governments depend on a constantly aroused sense of insecurity and vulnerability to win either our acquiescence or support for their amassing of power and the abridging of our rights. Even the natural world, increasingly tested by every manner of extraction, pollution and abuse, is not brittle and morbid but adaptive and resolute. A marvelous force, life is defined not by each individual’s eventual demise but by the inherent preoccupation with living. Harm it, and – like our physical bodies – it seeks to heal. All we need to do to help in most situations, is to step back and leave it alone. Suppressed in one way or place, life will seek to burst up and through, new species arriving to fill in any emptied niche, coyotes having more pups during periods where they are being hunted hardest, plants developing resistance to herbicides, and people filled with the energy of life whenever not manipulated into focusing on risk and end.
We are, however, endangered by ailments, and responsible for our health. The health of the natural world that we are part and extension of, is to a degree our responsibility too, as we act to help make whole what has been put asunder, to mend what’s been damaged, to heal what’s been dismembered. We tend body and land through blatant activism, educating, protesting, organizing and agitating, but also through the growing or gathering of food, healthy nourishment and caring for ourselves, through care-taking and stewardship and trying our best to learn to do what’s most right. Fragile it isn’t, but when it comes to the continuance and quality of life, we do in many ways hold both its potential and its fate in our hands.
This was driven home for our young daughter Rhiannon recently, in a canyon given lesson that she is not likely to forget. When she was five we had a wonderful white rat named Lydia that she apparently wasn’t old enough yet to have much interest in, but in the years since she has increasingly wished she had a pet. The Anima Sanctuary’s protective land covenants prohibit dogs and cats here, due to their substantial impact on the local wildlife that we’re committed to restoring. Not that Rhiannon would even be satisfied by a domestic dog. “I don’t want a pet to be caged or have to be with me all the time,” she explained. ‘I want a fox that will play with me but have its own mate and den, or a raven that will come be my friend and let me pet it each day before flying off with it’s friends again.” We’ve known it was just a matter of time before she would show up one day with a juvenile packrat or cuddly skunk, approaching us with the Otter Girl’s most imploring look.
Rhiannon had it with her for two days before feeling ready to tell us about it, a baby wild turkey that she had run and caught as a hen’s brood scrambled to keep up with her. The reason we hadn’t seen it, and that it had been so content and quiet, was that she had been keeping it warm in her hat… on her head.
Our emotional response was mixed, first of all touched by her love for it, then proud she could catch one, and finally concern over what we would do with it. We gave up trying to raise chickens long ago, when no amount of fencing could keep out the chicken munching owls, hawks, coyotes and raccoons, and we could just picture what would one day be a 30 pound bird holed up with her in her 8X10 treehouse. Kiva did research and discovered that unlike other species, the mother turkey would likely not kick the baby out over the human smells left by handling, but the chances weren’t good for getting that close to the flock soon enough.
There was something so beautiful about the many expressions passing across Rhiannon’s face, as she kissed and petted her feathered charge. Apprehension over our reaction, and its needs. Uncertainty over what to do, and wondering if she had done the best thing. A desire to keep it as her canyon companion, and a burning desire to somehow tend then set it free.
As she fed her baby with ground up acorns and water from an eye-dropper, it proved impossible for us not to imagine her attended by the grown turkey, defensive of her and distrustful of strangers, not large enough to ride like Princess Mononoke’s wolf but a faithful and brave compatriot even if not the smartest bird on the block. It would come when she made a low clucking sound in her throat, or when she called its name… something both mythical and noble sounding but a unique Rhiannon creation, such as Sigfeather or Theobold.
“We’re sorry,” I had to tell her, even as it burrowed into her hat nest and petitioned to be put back on her head. “Its chances of survival away from its mother when it’s this young are very slim,” I had to be honest, “you’d better love and enjoy it while you can.” The consequences of her decision to bring the bird home sunk in the next morning, when she awoke the next morning to find her beloved stiffened and cold.
Other chicks from the same brood will die from other causes, a freak malady or the expected closing of a peregrine’s claws or canyon fox’s jaws. But others will live on, dodging predation and growing to raise their own hopeful young, part of life’s relentless surge, life’s demonstrative will to be alive. Though not fragile, it is of course mortal, and in that mortality lies the weight of our fateful choices as humans. It is the price of consequence and the certainty of death that brings the tension and excitement to each being’s personal act of living… and that makes so precious and powerful, the sight of her other chicks growing in awareness and strength, celebrating what are all consequential moments on the river beach below.
(For more writings by Wolf Hardin, go to the Writings Page on the Anima Lifeways and Herbal School Site)
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