When a turkey barks (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS – V)
“When turkeys mate they think of swans”. - Johnny Carson
But then, when a turkey barks, you can’t help wondering what its mom and dad were really thinking of when they were mating…
“When a turkey… barks?” Yes, you have read correctly. “When a turkey barks” is not a line deriving from some guilt-ridden nightmare, say… of a turkey suddenly turning into a wild dog and chasing you with a mean bark and mean intents of revenge… or, actually, from the turkey’s point of view, rather fair intents of justice, for all its fellow turkeys you have chased, caught, and made a feast of, hundreds of recurrent roasts before, in your despicable turkey-eating past. “When a turkey barks”, it is not (necessarily) a sign of critical mental decay or severely messed up hearing faculties on your part. And “when a turkey barks”… it certainly means that you get as honestly and as seriously shaken as if your pooch would suddenly meow at you, or that mighty elephant in the zoo would intone an aria of the “Tosca” in a reedy soprano, out of the blue.
“When a turkey barks”… something utterly bizarre and unlikely turns into a true story. An utterly bizarre and unlikely story, for sure… but true , nonetheless. Let me share it with you:
It all started, really, with a gift of four strikingly beautiful snow-white Bantam Silkies (1) – three hens and a rooster – several years ago. By then, the only poultry in our farm belonged to Antonio, the yard’s old head-groom, who kept a few chickens in a potting-shed, and whose wife, Alzira, took them out to peck around in their small but lush vegetable garden every day, for a couple of hours, under her own personal (and fierce) supervision – lest the stray cats roaming about decide that they looked much too irresistibly scrumptious. So, when those four exotic, fluffy creatures arrived, and the generous donor briefed us on their feeding habits and other details concerning their care, and warned us of their fondness for shrubs in which to hide and for trees on which to perch, we realized that we didn’t have anywhere quite adequate to install them. That was when we decided to build a nice, spacious, close-to-nature aviary, where our new “fantabulous” birds would be comfortable… as well as safe from those shrewd felines, who knew everything there is to know about shrubs and about climbing trees, and which they could share with their more down-to-earth relatives – who would, no doubt, feel much happier… as would Alzira, thus released of her self-imposed, yes, but nonetheless strenuous chicken-shepherding duties.
A few years later, the new aviary, shaded by a canopy of grape-vines, and equipped with a couple of small trees, ready for any winged inhabitants to perch on their branches, some rocks, varied-sized bird-feeders hanging, at different heights, from the wire-net “roof” – installed, like the “walls” built of the same material, to ward off the predators – water troughs, a small pond, a two-room “maternity”, and several dove-cots, had become home to a thriving, expanded and variegated feathered population.
There were, of course, the magnificent, “furry” Silkies. To the white original four and their progeny, the kindness of the previous donor had added some black ones – one of the hens, still flaunting, to this day, the most amazing black-and-white, lady’s-day-at-Ascot-horse-races-like “hat” we’re ever likely to admire – and to all of them, a very resourceful, downright cocky, recently acquired common bantam rooster, had added… a new, colourful strain of tiny, yet rather full-of-themselves, short-tempered crossbred “shaggies”. And there were also “regular” chickens, some ducks, a quintet of Guinea-freakin’-noisy-fowl, several turtle-doves and pigeons that flew in and out as they pleased through a strategically placed “window” on the wire-net, a couple of splendid “Pharaoh” pheasants… and Dominguito, quite a special character – a bald-neck russet cockerel, hatched under the pheasant hen, whom he followed everywhere, and who, in turn, protected and nestled him, even after he’d grown much bigger than herself, like a truly caring, loving mom!
And then, some more years later, the turkeys started to join in. It had been a while since Antonio had retired and returned, with his family, to the South of Portugal, and had been replaced, as the yard’s head-groom, by Zé Carlos, who, like his predecessor, besides, of course, the most amazing talent for horses, had always had a knack for poultry-breeding and keeping. So, at our aviary, along with his own strain of home-bred chickens and ducks, Zé Carlos had started to develop the very successful activity of purchasing chicks at the weekly neighbouring town market, raising them to egg-laying stage… or “fit-for-consumption” size, and then… keeping a few for his family’s use (in this arrangement, our own family gets a nice, fresh supply of eggs every week) and selling the other ones on, to his own very faithful clientele around the village.
It was during one of his trips to the market, on a cold and drizzly early autumn morning, that Zé Carlos’s eyes fell on a shivery, skinny, miserable-looking batch of turkey-chicks, that no one appeared to be interested in buying, even if the poultry merchant, who had already sold everything else and was desperate to go home, was offering them for a really low price. Kind-hearted as he is, although he’d already purchased the batch of chicks he was interested in and was not planning on spending any more money, Zé Carlos simply could not bear to leave those forlorn, scrawny little turkeys behind… so he paid the ecstatic merchant what he was asking, placed them in a cardboard box, and took them home to Quinta da Lage.
By Christmas, thanks to Zé Carlos’s tender and highly efficient care, the former weak, sad little turkey chicks, had grown into unbelievably massive, superb specimens, strutting majestically around the aviary. Everybody was in awe of the feathered giants – most of all Zé Carlos, who had become really attached to his protégés. They, in turn, showed true affection for him, and it was a pleasure to watch those birds of regal countenance gather around their benefactor, whose voice they clearly recognized, and look up at him in obvious adoration, unmistakably begging to be petted. I’d never seen anything quite like that before and completely understood Zé’s reluctance in giving in to… the rather unemotional, very prosaic and totally practical viewpoint of the village’s good people, who, as the festive season approached, had inevitably started to urge him to sell the “Archbishops” (as we called them) so they could fulfil their… Christmas-lunch-roast-that’s-what-turkeys-are-for-destiny. So, I fully supported him in his decision to… twist that maybe mouth-watering but still terrible (2) dressing-up-the-butt-and-potatoes-around fate… and just let them live, be happy… and breed many little turkeys!
And so it was, and, by this year’s late spring, the “Archbishops” and their “Ladies” had already produced quite a fine brood, that seemed to have inherited all of their parents’ amiability. So, one very nice afternoon, I was admiring the friendly little things, who had rushed to the aviary’s door to greet me… and decided to play with them for a bit, by trying to emulate the turkeys “gloo-gloo-gloo” as best as I could, so they would respond. And my imitation mustn’t have been all that lousy, because, soon enough, I was favoured with a lusty chorus of “gloo-gloo-gloos” in return… and also with something that sounded… yeah, like a high pitched bark.
At first, I didn’t really take any notice. After all, the dogs were running and sniffing about, and one of them, who does have a rather shrill yap when he’s excited, might very well have come across something interesting, near the aviary. So, highly encouraged by my previous turkey-speaking success, I just went on “gloo-gloo-glooeing”, delighted at the enthusiastic “gloo-gloo-glooeing” response… until I could no longer ignore the fact that, among the “gloo-gloo-gloos”, there was a distinctive “yap-yap-yap”… and no, it definitely did not come from any of the dogs! “Blimey”, I thought, “either I’m finally going stark-raving-bananas… or one of these little turkeys is actually barking at me!” So, again I “gloo-gloo-glooed”, just to make sure… and, sure enough, among the responding chorus of “gloo-gloo-gloos”, there was that mind-blowing “yap-yap-yap”… which, this time, I was able to follow to its source – the smallest of the turkey chicks, who, on top of all things, was staring at me… while tilting its tiny head from side to side, you know… just like doggies will do!
As Zé Carlos was approaching the aviary, with a bunch of cabbage leaves for the chicken, I stammered, utterly flabbergasted, “You… you have a… a… huh… barking turkey, here!” to what he replied, with predictable incredulity “I have a… what?!” So, I repeated, in a slightly steadier voice, “You have a barking turkey, here!” and then, just to demonstrate – to him as much as to myself – that I was not hallucinating or anything like that, I added, “Listen!” and offered my most heartfelt, perfect “gloo-gloo-gloo” ever! And unfailingly, with the “gloo-gloo-glooeing” chorus, came… the little turkey’s “yap-yap-yap”! Triumphantly, I beamed at Zé Carlos… who had almost dropped the bunch of cabbage leaves, and was staring, gobsmacked, at the phenomenon. “I’ll be darned…” he muttered, then… tried his own best “gloo-gloo-gloo”… and, with the “gloo-gloo-gloo” general reply, got, of course, the exclusive “yap-yap-yap”. “Do you think this could be because it’s still a chick… and such a small one?” I wondered, trying to introduce a little common-sense in this incongruous situation. “Could be… I don’t know!” Zé sighed. “We can only wait… and see!”
And wait we did, and see we did… and listen intently we did… and, as spring gave way to summer and that particular batch of turkey chicks turned, gradually, into yet another magnificent lot of grown-up turkeys – another “Archbishop” and six “Damsels” – we understood, at last, and accepted that… while the others continued to “gloo-gloo-gloo”, that specific “Fair Maiden” – who, incidentally, had grown as big as the other turkey hens – still… “Yap-yap-yapped” her head off, and now in an even more dog-like tone, every time we paid a visit to the aviary!
So, my friends, this is the story – which I illustrate with a photo of the phenomenal protagonist, whom we have named Genoveva… and who, you’ve guessed correctly, will NEVER become a roast. We’ll probably never know why, among all the universally “gloo-gloo-glooeing” turkeys we’ve ever come across in our lives, there happens to be one, this particular one, who… barks, instead. What we know, for sure, is that, if Genoveva’s mom and dad-turkey were, indeed, thinking of any other species when they mated… of swans it was most definitely not!
Story and photo © 2007 by Alexandra* ~ OneLight*®
(1) - Silkie Chickens, or Bantam Silkies, are one of the oldest among the rare breeds of poultry. It is said that Marco Polo wrote about seeing Silkies in the Orient in 1200 A.D during his travels. Silkies are very strange looking chickens. Their feathers are missing the barbules that hold them into the traditional rigid feather shape, and appear to look like hair. They also have black skin and bones, five toes and more hair-like feathers on their feet, mulberry coloured walnut shaped combs, and light turquoise, almost iridescent looking earlobes, all of which, combined, makes Silkies one of the most unusual breeds of poultry… if you don’t count barking turkeys, of course. ;0)
Read more about Silkies and enjoy some enchanting photos (make sure you scroll down the page so you won’t miss any of the images… believe me, you’ll love them!) at http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/CGP/Silkies/BRKSilkies.html
(2) – Please don’t get me wrong… I’m not a vegetarian, and although I fully respect those who are as much as I respect those who, like myself, are not, I must admit that, sometimes, my feelings in this regard are… ambiguous, to say the least. The thing is that… while enjoying meat of many kinds (including turkey!) and making it a regular part of my diet, I simply can’t bring myself to… even think of “eating” any animal I’ve actually happened to look – or that has happened to look at me - in the eye. And, among many other animals – pigs, cattle, rabbits, game… - these particular turkeys were… believe me… of the kind that gives you… a truly “soul-to-soul” look!
INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS – title and texts © by Alexandra* ~ OneLight*® - is a collection of short stories in which the main characters are animals of different species… including the odd human, once in a while! To read the introduction to this series, go to: