I stood at the window and watched a wild turkey parade go by this morning, across the driveway and up the hill into the pinons. One, two, three, four, five, six, eight, ten, twelve, and finally fourteen if I counted correctly. They are so goofy and regal at the same time, scurrying and bobbing their ugly heads as if they don’t know how unattractive they are, holding themselves very erect. At that moment they unquestionably owned that spot of ground on which they stand.
It reminded me of a dozen other wild turkey stories, which is what New Mexico is for me. Something new to see every day, after 55 years here, and a pile of memories to accompany what I’m seeing. Those of you who moved far away from your home state probably shake your head at my insular life as a native New Mexican, but there is so much, and is it so beautifully unique, that I frequently find myself excited about what new thing I’m going to see today. Or what memory is going to be jogged.
This morning I think of the wild turkeys that roost in the trees along the Porter highway in eastern New Mexico just north of San Jon. These trees are across the road from the Jackson place, hundreds of them it seems. You’re headed to Amarillo to a doctor appointment, in a hurry, and you come over the hill and there they all are, in the middle of the road, causing you to hit your brakes and slow waaaaaaay down. If you’re with your parents who grew up in this area, you’ll hear a story of two about the Jackson place and how that old boy had more pull with the bank, how he piled up tractors in a time when no one could afford to pay interest on their seed. My 84 year-old daddy never figured that one out.
I think of the wild turkey that my friend Eddie hit with his Harley out near Gallegos on the way to Mosquero. It flew up into his windshield and he miraculously didn’t wreck the bike. But the turkey was dead, and he and his buddy, Quay County hunters from way back, quickly hung it upside down in the one tree on the road and slit its throat. They went to the Gallegos Ranch and borrowed ice and brought home wild turkey breast for us to try. I was newly into eating locally, having just read Michael Pollan, and I was determined to like this offering of a bird from just down the road.
It was awful. Has anyone ever had wild turkey that was delicious?
And then there was the wild turkey that made me pee my pants. When I lived in Logan, returning there with my daughter so that she could go to a smaller school for eighth grade, I bought a sweet house out at Ute Lake. Every morning I would get up and go for a run. I was thrilled about being loosed from the bonds of Albuquerque street running. Here I was on dirt roads in a lake subdivision where only me and two other households lived year-round. I would get to the west end of my subdivision and take off through the Simms pasture, the last untouched land on the lakefront. The Simms family had owned the entire ranch that became Ute Lake, and the state bought the majority from them in the late 50’s, leaving just a few shoreline half sections in their possession.
We called that pasture, some 92 acres I’d learn later, Two-Lane. Or at least the local high school kids did, since they wandered down those old two lane ranch roads late at night to get to a cove for their parties. I ran there with abandon. It was like being a child again, riding my bike out in the country, exploring dirt roads and abandoned farmhouses. It was unbelievably quiet and there wasn’t a soul around. I’d generally run a quarter mile or so into Two Lane and head down to the shoreline, where I’d skip at least five rocks across the water just to stay in practice.
The Wild Turkey morning, I was almost to the water, to a small dip in the terrain where I had to skip across a few boulders and then around a line of juniper bushes to get to the small strip of beach that I considered my own. I was sweating and breathing heavily, and just as I came around the corner of the junipers, a wild turkey flew up out of the nearest bush right in front of me.
He was a mass of black body and wild, wide feathers and that red wattle and those ugly, beady eyes, but he was also in command and crazily beautiful. And very noisy. What he was mostly, though, was unexpected and big and scary in that instant. I peed my pants in fear and surprise.
I obviously scared him as much as he did me. He flew away in a flutter and I stooped over and tried to stop my heart beating so wildly, and then I began to laugh. What a wake up! What a way to spend an early weekday morning! Who else got to stand and stare out at the expanse of the widest part of Ute Lake and laugh about having a close encounter with a wild turkey? With wet shorts?
Of course I had to get in the lake with those wet shorts, and that turned into a swim, and I silently thanked the turkey for giving me the additional gift of a spontaneous swim on a weekday morning.
Those were the things I thought of, in a flash, as I watched that wild turkey parade go across our Heron Lake driveway and up the hill. That is what New Mexico does for me. It gives me something new and jogs a great memory every single day. I love New Mexico.