There Goes the Neighborhood

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Wild turkeys are roaming in the neighborhood.

My first turkey sighting was on an early winter morning. I was driving home from the gym when I turned into our street and saw a mom with her two young kids standing on the sidewalk. The mom was pointing in the direction of our house just a few blocks down. I followed her finger to see four enormous, obscenely beefy turkeys that looked as if they had just waddled out of a Thanksgiving Day painting by Norman Rockwell. They were standing around in someone’s driveway all casual, hanging out the way you do when you’re trying to decide if you actually want to get in your car and go to work or go inside, call out, and couch surf for the rest of the day. Even turkeys need a personal day once in a while.

I drove past slowly, gawking along with a few other people who were out walking their dogs. The turkeys gawked back, bored, tired as if to say: “Your kind is so predictable.” I can’t disagree.

From then on, the turkeys have become a semi-permanent fixture in the area. This would not be entirely unusual except that ours is a mid-sized city about 5 miles on the outskirts of downtown Boston, a large city known more for its history and high rises than its woodland creatures. Every so often someone will post an image of a turkey—lean, small, possibly mistaken for a pheasant—wandering around Harvard Square in Cambridge. Another tourist looking for directions to Faneuill Hall, they might jokingly post. And it’s true that they seem lost, befuddled. They share the look of someone standing in front of the apartment building where they lived years ago only to find it’s been turned into a Giant Money Corp Bank.  

The ones in our neighborhood are fat and haughty. They swagger. They are ballers. They wake us up around 5 A.M. with short, eerie gobble cries that ricochet around the neighborhood making them sound like they are on our front porch when they could be a block or more away. I admire their zero-effs-given attitude as they waddle along in the middle of the street, three or four together at a time like a roving gang of street toughs. I wanted them to be females, owning their turf, daring anyone to approach and tell them they should smile more. How disappointing to discover that these turkeys were male—gobblers or Toms as they are called. They have the thick plumage that majestically fans out when they strut and become excited, either spoiling for a fight or trying to attract a mate. I mean, really, could this bird be anymore cliché? Then I found out that Toms are also polygamous. Asked and answered.

I find them a welcome, weird addition to the neighborhood. With a few exceptions, we tend to stick to our modest patches of fenced in or tree-lined yards. There’s a lot more wondering about what goes on on the other side of the shrubbery than being on the other side. This was true before being siloed was a mandate. We live around each other with our kids and families and ding-dong friends who bring fireworks to the BBQ forgetting that you live in a densely packed street and not on a houseboat. We’re impressions, sensed and heard and only sometimes really seen. Fenced in lives to go with our fenced in houses.

One afternoon a few days ago, I looked out of our second-floor window and saw a portly Tom in our yard. He was standing underneath our crab apple tree, which was in full bloom. Its white blossoms dripping on the ground like splashes of wet paint. He cried out at various intervals, thrusting his neck, tilting his head this way and that as if waiting to hear an answer that did not come. He stepped tentatively in the direction of the small row of stones around one of our flower beds. He’d lift a claw and then put it down. Stalled. It was as if the stones formed a barrier, enchanted by a witch’s spell that refused to let him cross. Good neighbor. How quickly the wild gets tamed. How easy it is to submit to order. Finally, he settled his great husk on the ground, resigned to go no further, instead, turning his attention to pecking at whatever inviting grubs and insects writhed freely in the grass and soil.

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