It’s been a difficult year. Our three cats passed away within 14 months, these animals had been our family the past two decades. Now we have three cremation urns on a memory table, cold ceramic and wood where there had been warmth.
The firsts are hurdles. First time coming home and not being greeted. First time alone in the house. Waking up on your own. Being in a room in the dark, knowing there’s nothing else out there. If you stop and think about it, the emptiness can really hurt. A system that worked so beautifully is gone.
There’s a group of five wild turkeys who live in our neighborhood. Mind you, turkeys have been home to New England for ages. At my house, we’ve seen various groups marching through the yard most every season. No group stays around for very long. These five turkeys were different; they’ve stayed together as an intact unit for the past summer and fall.
We’ve seen them about four months. That’s pretty rare.
Every day, several times a day, the turkeys walk a rough half-mile oval from their nesting trees, across several grassy properties, two narrow roads, through a small forest and back again. We’ve named these birds the five wise men, although they all appear to be female. They’ve stuck together, and have been a welcome sight. Turkeys have a reputation for their strength, speed, and ferocity, but our wise men have kept to themselves, among us.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeding bread to the wise men. This hasn’t been a regular occurrence–I feed them when I can. The turkeys cross through our backyard and I have to be ready with the bread or I’ll miss my opportunity. The turkeys stop by our bird feeders and spend about ten minutes on our property before they move on. I’ve fed them about half-a-dozen times, always throwing bits from the safety of my front door stoop.
The first time I tried feeding them, I approached them on the lawn and they did not like that. They moved to avoid me, their heads all turned in my direction. When I tossed a few bits of bread, I might as well have been chucking baseballs. The turkeys scrambled away, they didn’t appreciate my presence.
In subsequent days, I learned that if I stayed at my front door railing, I could toss them bread bits and they’d cautiously eat.
Something wonderful happened to me the other day. I saw the wise men in the backyard and I brought my bread outside. On impulse I left my front door stoop and made my way up the side yard.
I was giving up my protections. I didn’t care.
They weren’t expecting me there. For them, a man was approaching and it was time to react.
Cocked heads looked me in the eye, and then came recognition. The wise men didn’t flee; the two leaders approached and greeted me with sounds I did not know but understood.
I offered them the bread. I wasn’t exactly standing amongst them, but I was certainly with them. I tossed them the food and they ate.
Theirs was a simple action of animals coming towards me, to be fed. What an incredibly moving moment!
I’d never thought I’d experience that again.
For years I’d fed my cats, and Petey and Jadey and Mellie had their vocabularies, not just for feeding, but specifically for me, at meal time. The wise men had their vocabulary too, these creatures of power some twenty-million years in the making. They spoke to me, addressed me. They knew this man was ok. He brought good food. He was trusted.
I heard sounds on the grass that I would never hear on the stoop. The turkeys were in constant audible communication with each other. They offered sounds to me. The people on my street don’t hear these sounds. People with families hear their own sounds.
I live in an empty house. Outside, there’s a family who for one day let me stand with them. Let me tell you, acceptance is a powerful thing.
Ara Hagopian’s book is out now: http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com