And Then There were None

As many readers know, I’m a passionate student of body language. And I have the terrible habit of anthropomorphizing just about everything in existence, from rocks to cars. So, I apologize in advance to Madame Turkesa, or Harriet as I’ll call her, our resident turkey empress for imposing my interpretation on her story.

Of course, I have no idea if indeed she is the same haughty female who took possession of our yard last year. But she certainly knew how to send my cats, Lucky, the great orange menace and Houdini, Mr. I Stalk Like No One In History, to cowering under the picnic table eyeing her in resentful admiration. Her mating dance with Hal, the primo ballerino with the best feather display in the neighborhood, was somewhere between a shamanic ritual and an Argentinian tango.

One day as I pulled into my driveway, Harriet was parading her dozen chicks right in the path of destruction. I slammed on my brakes. She gave me an offended look and began a haughty scurry, followed by 11 of the 12. For some reason, one of the chicks decided to run the other way. “I totally get it,” I said to him. “Run away! Now’s your chance to declare autonomy! Why stick with the pack. You are your own man!” But even as I cheered him on, he panicked, scurrying here, there and everywhere then made a mad dash towards the gang.

The next day found Harriet, still full of attitude with six chicks. “What happened?” I called out to the garden. She turned her back on me and did a few Flamenco steps, tossing her head. “Don’t ask, Bitch, it was a tough night and I’m still in charge.”

A couple of days later, I got home from work and had an hour before some friends were coming for dinner. I dashed to my creatively fenced-in garden to harvest some kale and dill. I opened the garden gate and there was Harriet with a mouthful of my strawberries, trampling my beans.

“What the heck? How did you get in here?” I asked. Instead of her usual aplomb, Harriet panicked. Screaming as if I was about to kill her, she began to hurl herself against the fence. I heard panicked chirping to my right. “Calm down, I’m not going to hurt you. Come on,” I offered. But Harriet would have none of it. Hell with the kids. She ran like an Olympic pole-vaulter and hurled herself over the fence, leaving the kids to fend for themselves.

I turned to the screeching. Two chicks were hysterically trying to push themselves through the chicken wire. Two? What happened to all the rest? Harriet was doing a wild gobble-gobble dance over by the woods, frantically flapping and running, reminding me of nothing more than my own mother when a sibling was late from a party. The chicks were screaming and trying to shove their heads in the chicken wire holes. I grabbed one and threw him over the fence. The other was just as easy. They ran like hell for the woods next to the garden.
Meanwhile, Harriet was in a state, running back and forth in a completely different part of the yard.”Yo, girl, they’re over here!” I tried to get her attention. But she stuck with her firebird dance on the other side of the yard, accompanying her choreography with screaming that would put La Boheme to shame.

Her behavior threw me into the “wayback machine.” Many years ago, as Ron and I enjoyed a road trip down the Atlantic coast, one of our main destinations was garage sales (back in the day when they were amazing). In Delaware, I spied a book in a pile. The title was Instantaneous Personal Magnetism, a best seller written in 1924 by Edmund Shaftesbury, “COMBINING AN ABSLOLUTELY NEW METHOD WITH THE BEST ESTABLISHED TEACHINGS OF THE PAST, NOW THE STANDARD WORK OF THE MAGNETISM CLUB OF AMERICA. TWELFTH EDITION.” Twelfth Edition!

Apparently, millions of people owned, if not read, this book. Whatever happened to the Magnetism Club of America? Why was the world not a better place? His other books were listed: Mental Magnetism, Animal Magnetism, Sex Magnetism (of course) and a dozen more titles. Imagine our good fortune, when at a garage sale in North Carolina, we scored a copy of Mental Magnetism! We figured if we traveled far enough we’d be the only living owners of a complete set of Shaftesbury‘s books.

These illuminating treatises had much useful information, such as foods that negatively affect your magnetism. (To this day, I hesitate to drink too much seltzer.) He also wrote about levels, or what he called strata, of thinking. He called a bird who flies immediately to her nest as thinking “one deep. A bird that keeps at an almost safe distance from a hunter, and lures him on from field to field until she has brought him far away from her nest of little ones, is gifted with the faculty of thinking ‘two deep.’ A hunter who understands a bird’s strategy is then thinking ‘two deep’ to outwit the bird.” But you have to know the bird.

Shaftesbury actually tells an entire tale about a wild turkey in his book: “A wild turkey is very wild. It fears man and avoids. Him. The sight of a human being near by causes the greatest consternation… A hunter came upon a turkey and her flock by a sudden bend in the road. She was cornered by the fence. He expected to see her take flight in the instant. He knew her nature and had never been deceived. In this case, the wild turkey walked vary slowly and unconcernedly up to the hunter, at the same time, giving a low-tone signal to her flock, which caused them to get under the fence leisurely and move away.”

So, while Harriet may well have done the typical ‘turkey thing’ by hightailing it over the fence and abandoning her young, I realized that she was now trying to think “two deep.” Flapping and singing and dancing for all she was worth, Harriet was convinced that I would go after her chicks, so she was bravely sacrificing herself in order to distract the giant monster who had invaded her restaurant. Frankly, if I were her kids hiding in the woods, I’d freak out watching my mother act like that. I left, hoping things would turn out well. And indeed, a half hour later, I saw two chicks run out of the woods to Momma. Two! Where were the rest?

Yesterday, Harriet came strutting through the yard, picking a bug here, a raspberry there. Alone. When she got close to the house, I opened the door. “Don’t even ask,” she stared balefully. “I’m so sorry,” I murmured.

We all do the best we can with what we’ve got. Was Harriet’s pride her downfall? Had thinking one deep cost her brood? Was she merely a victim of nature’s cruelty ¬- the hawks and owls who make chicks their gourmet meals? Were her kids just too headstrong, leading to their own demise? Or had they perhaps “flown the coop” ahead of their time? Was she now mourning, or celebrating her new freedom? “None of your business,” she snorted as she nipped off another raspberry.

Lavinia prefers to use her brain helping others outwit their pain and self-sabotaging habits, but still can’t figure out how to trick the deer out of eating her flowers.

Lavinia Plonka
Written by Lavinia Plonka