We saw a gaggle of turkeys in the school garden yesterday, and it reminded me of a funny story. Back in the spring, I had a kindergarten class outside getting ready to plant some carrots and radishes. We were sitting in a circle on the grass talking about the rules of the garden—how if you pay attention and walk instead of run, you can actually see lots of different wildlife. One of the little boys gestured over toward the back of the school and said, like that? He pointed at what appeared to be a very large wild turkey going through its death throes in plain view of the children. Somehow I had failed to notice this spectacle during my lecture about being aware of your environment.
Seeing turkeys in the school garden is pretty commonplace, but this particular turkey was flapping his wings, kicking his legs, and flopping over in a violent, unpredictable fashion. I explained that it was a wild turkey and he was just taking a nap. The turkey was clearly not taking a nap, but it was the best I could do on short notice. I didn’t want them all running over and witnessing nature’s brutal truths firsthand. Let the turkey die in peace!
But the turkey wouldn’t die. He continued flailing about for quite some time. It was very distracting as I attempted to take the kids on a tour of the garden plants. They kept wandering over to spy on the turkey. He’s just dreaming, I assured them. Maybe he’s going for gold in the Turkey Olympics!! But I fully expected to have a dead turkey on our hands at any moment. This is not what people want out of their school garden, I can assure you. And yet nature isn’t always the nurturing, life-sustaining wonderland we want it to be.
About ten minutes later while we were planting seeds, I witnessed the bird get up and walk away, purposefully and with a surprising amount of dignity considering what had just happened. Look, he woke up, shouted one of the kids. After they all went back inside, I walked over to the spot where the turkey had been. It was a sandy spot literally inches from the back of the school with a shallow, turkey-sized circular pit. And then it dawned on me. He was taking a bath! Have you ever seen sparrows and other small birds taking dust baths? They’ll flap around in a sandy patch of ground for a little while, and then fly away, leaving a small dusty depression behind. Sometimes they’ll congregate in small groups and take turns. It’s cute when the birds are small, but take it from me, it’s just plain alarming with a full-sized turkey.
I’m glad to know the local turkeys take personal hygiene so seriously. Plus now I have a more plausible explanation for the turkey’s behavior—something better than the world’s most restless, tormented nap!