Sunday, April 24, 2005


The sound of wings beating the air -- a series of soft thuds rising from behind to overhead -- startled me. Something large had launched itself aloft. I looked up. There it was, perched on a high branch, craning its neck around. What was it ? I watched it for a while, took its picture and walked on.

I am an ornithologic naif. I can barely tell a sparrow from a starling. All I could think was hawk for the sheer size of it.

When I got my pictures developed I was astonished. The thing had a strange, leathery, red head. What could it be ? I went through my categories of "big birds." There was the yellow one on TV. Ostriches, which are flightless, so this wasn't. Maybe it was a hawk after all ? I thumbed through pages and pages of hawks in my Peterson's Guide.

Not a hawk.

It looked kind of like a turkey. But there were no turkey pictures in Peterson.

I think I took a picture of a wild turkey ! I announced to DK.

Mmmmm, Wild Turkey ! he joked. Meaning the booze.

He's even less of an ornithologist than I am. And neither of us drink. I don't eat birds. He does. But, kind husband that he is, he once bought us a Tofurkey. We read the instructions: Bake For Three Hours. Forget about it, we muttered in chorus and chucked the thing into the freezer. What good is a thing like a Tofurkey if you can't nuke it ? And, for that matter, why is there no Easter tofu ham ? No To-ham ? To circumvent the inevitable toe jam jokes ? Not fair.

We eventually, one long, dull afternoon, baked the Tofurkey. DK hated it. I pretended to like it. But, secretly, it appalled me. It was a tough, glutinous blob. He fed his to the garbage disposal. I choked mine down and put the leftovers in the freezer. And, three months later, threw them out. I could not face the leftover Tofurkey.

So had I seen a wild turkey in the woods of the Broadmoor Sanctuary ?

Today I remembered my little, purloined red-bound copy of Audubon's Birds of America (popular edition) . Purloined, you ask ? Purloined, apparantly, from the Andover West Junior High School library. I honestly (honestly, your honor !) can't remember boosting it. Maybe it was my brother ! Or Jay Leno !

Have I mentioned that I went to Jay Leno's High School ? Or, for that matter, has he mentioned that he went to mine ?

Have I mentioned that I have a mint condition copy of the June 14, 1968 edition of IMPRINT, the Andover High School newspaper, of which, as a senior in 1969, I was to become Editor-In-Chief ? The very issue in which the article "AHS BIDS FARE WELL(sic) TO TWO OUTGOING SENIORS" appeared ? There, below a photo of Mr Leno as a baseball-bat wielding toddler, is the prescient assessment:

"He was constantly funny, and although some of his jokes were corny, he never ceased to amuse his friends and classmates."

"Maybe I should try to sell this thing on Ebay," I said to DK. "But that would be really, really tacky. I can't believe I even thought of it. How low. How exploitative ! Imagine that -- me, trafficking in celebrity memorabilia. On the internet. I am such a tacky woman."

"I like tacky women," he chortled.

So, anyway, I thumbed through my purloined Birds of America and there was my big bird, Plate 65, thick brown body, little leathery red head -- A Turkey Vulture.

Vulture ?

I'd been alone in the woods with a vulture ? With a "carrion feeder" with a "six foot wing span" ? That passed so close that I could hear its wing beats ?

Carrion feeder. How auspicious. I think I'll just put that old newspaper back in the box at the bottom of my closet.

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