Life as a Turkey

Sunset Beach 1448Tonight is one of those nights when “God disposes.” I had started my preparation for what I was going to write tonight but while having supper I found myself watching a Nature program on PBS. The title was intriguing, “My Life as a Turkey.”

It’s the recreation of the experience of wild life naturalist, Joe Hutto, raising and imprinting a brood of wild turkey in Florida and what he learned from almost a year of spending the whole day everyday with the growing turkeys. His Q&A after the initial broadcast of the show last November is here:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/my-life-as-a-turkey/qa-with-naturalist-joe-hutto/7389/

We all probably know about imprinting. A newborn animal assumes that what it sees within the first few moments of awareness is its mother, someone it could trust to take care of it and from that moment on a bond is formed. (A human baby exhibits the same phenomenon albeit with some complicated twist but that’s for another blog.) What was amazing was how when Joe was with them, the other wild animals in the dense swampy area southwest of Tallahassee, Florida where this happened, including rattle snakes and deer, lost their fear of humans and allowed him into their private space, surely an incredible experience for any man or woman to have!

It was strangely moving to see the young turkeys peck and nestle next to the large human as though he was one of them. One turkey, Sweepea, would sleep on his lap when they were resting, its head on its long neck sometimes drooping down his thigh in complete abandon. When the other nine-month old turkeys left, it remained close by and never left. Even the recreation (the producers had to imprint a new set of turkeys to the actor who played Joe’s role) unequivocally showed how the birds showed affection and loved attention from their human “mother.” Joe was treated to unparalleled insight to how wild turkeys behave when they were among their own kind. They went about the business of foraging for food and watching out for predators but they also showed curiosity about other life forms, had distinct emotional reactions that were sometimes incomprehensible to Joe, played with each other or otherwise act very much as humans did, that is, were not solely governed by self-preservation or perpetuation of the species; they had a life on top of what was necessity.

Joe described the constant alertness of the birds. They lived each moment in the moment, unlike humans that are either thinking of the past or anticipating the future. To Joe the turkeys in their mindfulness of the present seemed to live each moment joyfully.

I happen to know a bit of what this is like. When one is completely here now, there is not the familiar sense of substance that most people don’t even get to know. It’s like dragging what feels like our shadow around, a self-important, spoiled potentate intent only on getting what it thinks it wants. Being who I am means I am solid and things happen to me.

Solidity stops the flow of energy as mass stops and absorbs or reflects light, creating a visual sensation in the light-reading organs like the eyes. When energy is stopped by a solid, self-realizing object, action transpires, an event is registered in the annals of the universe’s “memory.” To live without that sense of being “someone”, of being something apart from the seamless flux of space and time rather than integral to a Wholeness is phenomenal. A phenomenon, something “special,” discrete and individual, grows out of the fabric of unnameable Being.

Have you seen cats, for instance, and how they are always in the present? They don’t worry about the future nor worry about the past. In Matthew’s account of the life and passion of Jesus, he reported Jesus saying,

28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Matthew 6:28-29

Modern life is a little more complicated. We do have to labor because we live in society, in cities not in the wild, and instead of doing everything for ourselves we live in a money-based society. We earn money with our labors and exchange money for what we don’t grow or make ourselves.

But the moral still holds truth even in modern life. While we’re alive there is no problem that does not come with a solution, except that the solution may not be what we wanted!

I am always amazed when I think about it how things worked out in life. When things did not work out as I wanted, what did work out often turned out the better alternative. And not only better, but often really the only “choice” there was in the first place.

I don’t think of fate as something “out there.” For me fate is inseparable from who or what I am. What happens in my life is who I am. To state it more correctly, I am inseparable from what happens in me and with me. It’s my false sense of being separate, an independent entity apart from the whole, that creates grounds for hubris or pride as well as guilt and shame. When I see myself as part of the universe, like the lilies in the field, I see that my place in the universe is like that of the lilies in the field, the sun in the sky and the moon at night, like the cat on the window sill and the roach under the kitchen sink. We’re all, big and small, “necessary” and integral to the moment. And like every moment we’re either here or not here. In human terms we’re either alive or dead.

An artist can have a similar experience of selflessness when he or she is caught up in the creation process. We lose track of time or space. Everything we are is in what we are doing. Bits of thinking come and go but we are otherwise inseparable from the work at hand. No thought of gain or loss in the future, no worry, shame or guilt about the past.

On the way home from the gym this evening, minutes after sunset, I saw the liquid portion of this half-frozen lake near my home shining with mirror-like clarity. I rushed home, dumped my gym bag on the floor, grabbed my camera bag and drove back to the beach. The light had already changed but the water was still mirror-smooth and clear with reflections of the buildings on the other side and the still purpling sky. A street light lit the beach giving it the orange color that you see in the image above.

When infused with creative energy we really “see.” Instead of taking sensory experience for granted, we see with the vividness, the aliveness of what the Garden of Eden must have looked to Adam and Eve: unsurpassably beautiful, or as Yahweh had it, “good.”

To a turkey, it is just the way things are. Nothing special but oh, what joy!

About orlando gustilo

Digital content producer, photographer, writer.
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6 Responses to Life as a Turkey

  1. ShimonZ says:

    Agree with much of what you said, Orlando. Even on the subject of fate, I agree with you in part… however I would remind you that the innocent’s fate is often determined by the plans of some other life form for dinner, and those who are aware of others, and their motivations may enjoy a longer life than the lilies of the field. Aside from that, I have to report to you, as a man who has lived with cats all his life, that cats are aware of past and future, and change their behavior according to experience and expectations. Your picture of nature as a stream of compatible interaction is a bit more of an ideal than what I have found in nature.

    • orlando gustilo says:

      Language as we employ it is based on our individual experience so what you say may be true of what you know, not of what I know. But your very statements of differences precisely exemplify what I was referring to as our human tendency to assert distinction that I see as asserting separateness, what in much of the West is extolled as uniqueness, specialness, a “chosen” state if you will. As far as animals having “awareness” of past as evidenced by actions modified by experience, that is not the same as what humans do which is to “dwell” in memories of the past or fantasies of the future. Does your cat worry about its wrongdoing in the past or dream about being a moviestar when it grows up? The words we use for functions of consciousness are by the nature of consciousness very limited but we try to grasp a bit of what’s in another living being’s mind without actually being there ourselves. Which is invention, interpretation rather than the thing it seeks to be.

      • ShimonZ says:

        First of all, I want to emphasize that I’m not arguing with you, or finding fault in your view of things. I agree with you that there is much that could be improved in the way a human being today, worries about the past or dreams of fantasies in the future. But let me say that just as a cat does not dream of being a moviestar, a monkey doesn’t continue to lick and clean its fur all day long, an attempt to find perfect hygiene. Part of being patient and compliant with the universe, it seems to me, is also being patient with the human foibles that sometimes exasperate us, when they are so vain…

  2. orlando gustilo says:

    I thank you, Shimon, for taking the time to comment. We do share common bandwidth but differ in how we’ve experienced the world. Your “knowing” and my “knowing” are “necessarily” part of the whole as is everyone else’s. Much of what I write is in the language of someone who meditates, which like the experience of living as a Jew or a Christian or Muslim someone who doesn’t live it will find hard to fully understand. For me this is simply inescapably human, our not being able to walk in someone else’s sandals unless and only through intention or desire. Hence the challenge of using words and concepts to share the inner experience, which is also what I love about writing: the discipline it takes to say something aptly, or at least, gracefully.

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