In 2000, I moved to the country, after a lifetime of suburban living. I was excited about the changes to my quality of life that lay before me – no streetlights, no traffic, no neighbors stacked up on neighbors, no line at the grocery store. There were some changes I was less prepared for – a 20-minute drive to get to the grocery store, and the Chinese restaurant – there would be no pizza delivery to our little mountainside oasis. Taking the garbage out meant bear-proofing it and then driving with it, inside my car, to the dump. I could have burned it like the locals did but YUCK! How bad for the environment!! What a suburban reaction to have, I would later find out.
The noises in the woods in the pitch-black night took some getting used to. Breaking branches were NOT rapists and murdrers. They were deer, bear, and racoons. That faint trill high in the trees was not the ghost of some Civil War soldier, it was a screech owl. There was more gunshot than I had even heard living in Philadelphia, but it had nothing to do with drug deals gone bad – they were hunters. The ‘property owner association rules’ here were more like suggestions. That no one really followed. Except me and a few other suburbanites who had come looking for a quieter, calmer version of the suburbs. The folks who had lived there for generations were not too fond of us and definitely did not pay attention to ‘rules’.
My mountain was where roads disappeared. There were several ways to get to my house once you left the highway, but every route wound up the same. The road got narrower and narrower, till the dividing line went away, and then the pavement went away too. And then it got steep – SO steep! VDOT would have nothing to do with the road I lived on it was so steep.
The ‘front side’ of my mountain overlooks the highway. As you approach it, angels start to sing for the pass the highway runs through widens to the majestic view of it and other mountains around it. There are signs of life at the exit to my mountain, a perfect tourist trap of gas stations for visitors to the state park a few miles down the road, and a touristy gift shop where you can stock up on apple butter and grab a cup of coffee. The back side of my mountain is a different story, however, which is where my tale of the turkey farm begins.
There were realities to country life that city folks don’t think about and I had not considered when I convinced my then husband to move out there. The animals that became my dinner in the suburbs live out there. The chicken tenders and omelets and steaks that I thought grew on trees, actually start out as chickens with feathers and things that come out of chickens and cows grazing in pastures. Calves are so cute! I liked it better when chicken and beef magically appeared on a Styrofoam platter wrapped in cellophane, came from the grocery store and didn’t have a face. Discovering the turkey farm, however, permanently ended my relationship with turkey.
I found it quite by accident, one morning as a wrong turn high on the mountain led me down to the paved roads differently. There, hiding on the back side of the mountain, where you’d never know it was there unless you were looking for it, or were lost. It was small, but the smell accosted the senses upon approach; that wretched, putrid stench of biology and poop. It was made up of 2 multilevel, long buildings and 1 single level long building. The single level long building in front was obviously a coop for bigger birds. It had screened windows through which I could see hundreds of beaks looking out. I could hear a cacophany of gobbly noises that were audible above the traffic report. Like a moth to the flame, this became my new way to leave and return to the mountain – I wanted to know what was happening here.
One night, I was coming home late from work. It was after dark and as I rounded the bend to the turkey farm, I slowed to witness the turkeys from the coop being loaded onto a truck. Another car had its headlights pointed toward the doors of the coop, which were wide open. The coop was empty, but the white feathers strewn across the ground whipped up into the air as the wind caught them. I was heartbroken. These poor birds had known nothing of the outside all their lives and would probably die that way – never feeling the sun on their beaks.
The next morning, I was driving slowly by the farm heavy-hearted – the doors still wide open, feathers still being picked up and flown, birdless, like snowflakes on breezes. I was nearly past the carnage when something on the other side of the road caught my eye. What was that I just saw?? I screeched to a halt in the middle of the road and turned the car around.
There, across the road from the coop, not quite hidden by the tall, unmown grass, were two escaped convicts. Two medium-sized, white turkeys, were looking back at the side of the road from which they had come.
My heart soared!
FLY TURKEYS!!! FLY AND BE FREE!!!
Somehow, these two birds had slipped away and made it to the promised land they had been gazing at from the coop windows, dreamt about in their turkey dreams, wondering how the corn feed out there tasted. I cheered aloud in my car, with a smile from ear to ear on my face. “Go join your wild kin (that’s Southern for family) and meld into wild turkey society!”
I know. The reality is they they probably did not live long in the wild. They were BRIGHT WHITE, had had their wings clipped and all their food had been provided to them their entire lives. They had no idea how to survive on their own and they didn’t even have natural colors to camouflage them. But for a little while, those turkeys were free. In my light mood, I couldn’t help but answer the question about why the ‘turkey’ crossed the road.
Two years after I moved away from the mountains, the country rumor mill – the method by which all reliable news gets passed – said that a heavy snow had collapsed the coop. Several years later, the farm was in disrepair, weeds overtaking the place where the turkeys had once walked inside the coop, obviously not operating as a farm anymore.
This past year, I had occasion to drive by the farm on the highway and noticed that the whole space had been converted to a children’s playground and park.
Maybe those turkeys got their wish. I know I did.