TURKEYS AND TURNINGS

Buddy and Wiley

It wasn’t supposed to happen quite like this. That is, I didn’t expect summer to streak by like a comet. Last I remember I was in an all-out effort to keep Wiley, the wild turkey, alive and on earth at least one more day.

I’m sorry to report to you that I kept him alive for only two more weeks, during which time he remained happy and relaxed in the company of Buddy, a tiny Spanish Black heritage poult I drove across three counties to acquire.

To my great sorrow, Wiley succumbed to his original cat bites. The antibiotics came too late. I found him nestled against Buddy one hot morning, still. I won’t embellish on the confusion of the next few days, as I scratched my head over what to do about Buddy. The little black baby with eye markings as dazzling as Cleopatra was suddenly and sadly alone.

His (her?) peeps were mournful. As mournful as Wiley’s had been before I brought Buddy home as a companion. The chickens wanted nothing to do with Buddy.  And so I spent the following weeks being the best friend to Buddy I could be as a searched for a better home for him. Hopefully one with a turkey, or at least friendlier chickens.

Since I could not spend all the hours of my days with Buddy, I brought him my round makeup mirror, and he decided it was about a good a substitute friend as I was. I would see him preening by the mirror, chatting to his image, and “they” slept together every night.

Those weeks turned out to be the hottest of the summer, with temps close to a hundred and humidity higher than that.  I swear you could drink the air easier than you could breathe it. In the early mornings and evenings, I would open the greenhouse door and call to Buddy, who would come flapping out of his greenhouse like the police were on his tail. He ran like that to avoid the gauntlet of free-ranging banty hens who always tried to get in a nip as he raced past them.

Then we would go into the garden, where he would stroll with me while I weeded, dug holes, thinned seedlings, and tossed him bugs. He never learned to like Japanese beetles, but most any other grubby, squirmy thing would elicit the sweetest “tuwit, tuwit” calls that ever came out of a turkey’s mouth.

He became as fine a buddy to me as he had been to Wiley, and I looked forward to our daily wanderings. I’ve always read that turkeys have the intellect of a turnip, but I didn’t find Buddy to be the least bit dense. He was inquisitive, and eager to check out new things in his surroundings. He was also a very joyful creature, prone to little dances and twirls, and easily as much company as the very best of puppies.

Just like the very best of puppies, he loved to snuggle in my lap and take long afternoon naps there. We would sit together on hot afternoons in the greenhouse, both of us grateful for the electric fan I’d installed and ran 24/7.

Turkeys are not the most gorgeous juvenile fowl on the catwalk, and Buddy grew into a very gangly, scraggly looking youngster. His feathers bore none of the blue-black sheen that would come later. But no brighter, more beautiful spirit ever strutted in my garden before or since.

Craig’s List came to the rescue. I found a young couple looking for a young turkey to be a friend to their tom who had lost his mate. On the day I handed Buddy over to his new family, I noticed the first real, white-banded tail feather sprouting just beneath the cover of his wings. My heart hurt to see him go, but the ensuing peace settling back over the chicken yard made the loss worth it.

Why stand if you can sit?

My garden is mostly brown stalks now, and while I didn’t bring in bushel loads of vegetables from it, I got a great crop of basil and green beans. My enthusiasm hasn’t waned, and I’m already eager to start planting again next year.

In the pond, the frogs thrived. Tadpoles, tiny as comas, were devoured just about as soon as they wiggled out of their eggs. I have no idea how you keep mosquitoes out of a pond without fish, and I also have no idea how you can have tadpoles or tiny frogs WITH fish. If anyone has solved this mystery, please share!

The crawdads seemed to have the fish problem all figured out, because they produced dozens and dozens of tiny, lobster impersonating young who all gathered up in the bog and had hoedowns every night. Have you any idea how much energy it takes to be a crawdad? I’m here to tell you they can square dance, line dance, break dance, tango, and polka all at the same time.

I find comfort in the rhythmic activity of summer—the gardening, the watering, the progression of eggs to chicks, and of sprouts to blossom to harvest. I love watching the hungry, gray squirrels argue over the sunflower seeds in early spring, and then bring their skinny-tailed babies along with them a couple of months later to join the feast. By fall, all of them—youngsters and elders—are as fat as soccer balls and still trying to pack on more weight. It’s a long winter coming ahead. Eat while you can!

The rhythms of summer carried me gently along into yet one more change in my life. This one brought shifts that aren’t visible to anyone but me, yet the ground beneath my being moved in a major way.

For years, I’ve kept an office—resource books, networking files, copies of magazines I’ve written for, anthologies I’ve contributed to, names and numbers of contacts for workshops and conferences. I’ve kept a bookkeeper, because I can’t add up the letters of my name and consistently come up with right count. I call my office space my “author self” and this summer, I began the process of dismantling it.

I did this all in response to a whisper in the back recesses of my soul that suggested that it was time to let go of some things. And writing as a business was one of those things. It is the thing, not coincidently, that I identify myself with most strongly, because my author self is my best self. I have other selves that aren’t all that great, but my writer self evoked all of my better angels.

The decision came very slowly, and I acted upon it just as slowly. I acknowledged to myself that my days of owning my own business were behind me for many, many reasons. Before I took another step, I sat with my pipe in my office and prayed for a long time. I called to memory the conferences, the lectures, and all the wonderful, wonderful kindred spirits I’d gathered along the way. I remembered that none of my oncologists ever expected I’d live to see any of those years.

When I was ready, I emptied my files and used the boxes of paper and old manila folders to line my garden paths. I even used some cases of my old books that had gone a bit musty as a retaining wall down in the hollow.

I said goodbye to my bookkeeper and stopped keeping receipts and car logs.

I stopped pretending to try and keep my blog up to date. Clearly, that was a fantasy of mine, anyway, as I cringe at the sometimes vast spaces between entries.

To release the physical manifestations of that identity—all that “stuff” of being an author—seemed to be the right thing to do. Yet I have no idea why. I just listened to the whisper because it would not go away, and when I canceled my business checking account and charge card, the sense of relief that rained over me came as a sudden and total surprise.

For those of you who have followed these writings for some time, I will tell you that the sensation of canceling the accounts and emptying out my file drawers was nearly identical to the shock and release I felt when I made the discovery that the Rocky Mountains were through with me for the time being.

In the past weeks, I’ve given half my resource books to Goodwill, and begun the process of turning my office into a guest room. I do most of my writing down by the pond, anyhow, or in front of the woodstove in the winter.  As I said, the outward manifestations of my decision are not that noticeable to anyone but Carter and me, and I really have no idea what it is I have set in motion. Or really even why.

The other day my dear friend Dave asked me, “Susan, what are you doing in Indiana, really? Why the move here?” The wise answer is I really have no idea what in the world I am doing in the enchanted forests of Indiana, and why I left the elk and the grizzly bears behind for flying squirrels and box turtles. I feel the same way about closing out my physical office space. For a long time, my office symbolized a way of life and a part of life, just as had the all-consuming pull of the Teton Mountains. And then something I can only describe as unimaginatively as “quiet whispers” told me to let go of those things.

In the past two years I have cultivated inside myself a small host of better angels. I have other “best selves” in addition to my “author self.” I believe my role as wife to my husband has drawn an entirely new better self from within me. You can’t see that coming. It’s a gift visible in hindsight, and it awes me. Carter has elicited from me qualities that I didn’t know I possessed. My mother always told me that real love brings out the best in you. Darn, I guess she was right (again!).

Indiana has called deeply to my child self, and who I am in the forest is someone I’ve not known before. I find I like this forest girl, with her gullible curiosity, and her reverence for opossums and cocoons.

I’m still writing, of course. I just don’t call myself an author anymore, or keep a space in the house to anchor that past reality. Today, I am just a woman who likes to write, wander, and keep company with frogs. I have no books in the works, but I’m writing a regular column for SageWoman Magazine, and—when the crisp breezes of autumn are not luring me out with their gold-colored siren songs—I’ll be writing here.

Standing at the doorway of the unknown...

When I left the mountains behind, I did so with a certain sense of trepidation. The sort of trepidation you might feel when stepping off a cliff into an abyss. Perhaps that giant leap into the unknown makes this giant leap in my perceptual world less unnerving. I feel at peace with what I let go, and excited to face whatever shows up in the new space I’ve made, both inside and out.

In only a few short weeks, it will be autumn, the season of the harvest, of letting go, of going within, and of healing. In his new home, Buddy will be feeling the brilliant autumn sunlight on his new tail feathers, and the chill of the fall nights. That same sun cascades down on me, too, freshly molted in my own way, and wondering what colors my new tail feathers might be.

This entry was posted in Stories & Musings, Uncatagorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to TURKEYS AND TURNINGS

  1. dave whitney says:

    Susan, you will always be a writer–even if you were never to set another word down on a blank page. You frame and translate thoughts and images into language as naturally as a beaver builds a dam, transforming a simple stream into a wonderfully complex, enlightened pond, home or resource to multitudes, mirroring the stars, the clouds, the seasons of life all around. As an author you have touched hearts, made contact with and reinforced the best of our humanity. May that journey continue…yours and ours.

  2. elayne says:

    I can’t tell what your words meant to me, I too am moving on, new town, new beginnings, and I anticipate it with some trepidation, I have a gut feeling that it is right for me and I feel the swish of spirits who are guiding me, I’ve decided to just follow the wind, who I can’t see only when they move the trees or my hair gets into my eyes, they are there and I’ve decided to just follow their guidance, I’m cleaning out old menentoes, so I give thanks for your words.
    elayne

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Elayne, I find that following the whispers of my inner world never guides me astray. It may be some time before I can figure out the “why” of things, but in the larger picture of my life, everything has made perfect sense.

  3. Pam Templeton says:

    Susan, I can’t describe who you are as a beautiful writer and what you mean to me and all of us any finer than Dave has done here.

    You have inspired me to recognize, renew and fully live my life in the love and connection I’ve had since childhood with Mother nature and all her beings.

    Myself, my husband, and all of our four legged’s benefit from your wisdom, love and insight through your words.

    You were particularly with me in spirit two weeks ago as I came head to head with the National Historical Park Service fighting to save from the chain saw, our beautiful 85 year old willow tree on my Pop’s farm who I named Hecter. It was successful, being frightened, nervous,but mostly outraged at them and recalling your fights for injustice toward living beings who have no voice worked!

    Keep following your heart and your voices and I’ll always look forward to your next words and reread your books.

    Be Well and Happy Susan,

    Pam

  4. aletheia mystea says:

    Hey Susan, this is very inspirational for me at this time AND god for you!!! Aletheia

Share, please!