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Josie and the Turkey

I love the woodlands and meadows that stretch along the American River near our home. One afternoon I was sitting in a grove of trees writing. I looked up and noticed a wild turkey in a clearing about a hundred and fifty feet to my right. Her movements were angular and aggressive as she paced back and forth. After a minute or so she settled into some high grass. She was completely hidden except for her head which looked this way and that like a suspicious periscope.

A few moments later a big white dog with a red mouth came loping happy-go-lucky up a path. He was oblivious of the turkey. Suddenly the turkey leaped straight into the air and came down toward the dog, talons extended.

Surprised by the ambush, the dog backed up half a pace and sat down. He outweighed the turkey about five to one. So his ears perked up and his eyes lit up as if to say, “Oh boy, look what I found!” Then he leaped at the turkey. The bird was faster out of the starting block and got a ten-foot lead on the dog. The chase was on. As both animals came up to their full running speed, the dog was a little faster. He started to close the gap between them.

My stomach clenched.

“Josie!” a big voice yelled through the woods. Back near the clearing the dog’s master was standing with hands on hips. “Josie! Get back here, Josie!”

Josie was too excited to notice much less heed the command. He was only six inches from catching the bird.

The turkey spread her wings and took off. She only flew a foot above the ground. The dog continued the chase, but the turkey was a little faster in the air. When she had a ten-foot lead, she came out of fight and started running again! Josie closed in.

A shrill whistle pierced the woods. “Josie, leave that turkey along and get back here!”

Josie slowed a little, veered off the chase and ran toward his master.

The turkey changed course as well. She turned to pursue the dog, trying to peck his rear end!

The dog stopped dead in his tracks and turned toward the bird. They stood face to face. The bird’s head was low. Her eyes squinted as she all but scratched the grounded menacingly. The dog was bright eyed with delight. He leaped at the bird. The chase was on again.

The whistle shrilled again, but Josie was intent on the game. This time, when the turkey took flight, she rose higher and landed in a tree. Josie stopped below the bird and looked up silently and wistfully.

Another harsh whistle: “Get back here, Josie!”

Josie turned with an “awe shucks” expression and trotted back to his master. The two of them turned their backs and wandered down the path away from the scene.

From my vantage, I couldn't actually see the turkey in the tree. So I returned to my writing thinking, “That has to be the meanest, stupidest bird I’ve ever seen. No wonder they call them turkeys!”

Five minutes later I looked up. The turkey was back in the clearly. Now her motions were graceful and gentle. I noticed some peculiar leaves or feathers blowing around her ankles. When I looked more closely I saw they were actually tiny chicks. They could not have been more than a day old.

Suddenly the bird was transformed from a stupid, mean turkey into a smart, courageous mama who, with instinctual love had risked her life to distract the dog and protect her babies. My heart went out to her in admiration.

Of course, the bird had not transformed at all. The mama with her babies was the same creature that had taunted the dog earlier. I just didn’t know the whole story. Nothing real had changed. It was just my opinion that had turned 180 degrees.

I wonder how many human turkeys I know who would be transformed if I knew their whole story.