We have a daily visitor, a wild turkey we named Gobbelina, who comes down off the hillside behind the house, probably from the apple orchard at the top. She strolls placidly across the yard in that goofy prehistoric walk that turkeys do into the grotto area where she eats seeds that fall to the ground beneath the bird feeders. Other birds don’t seem to mind her, and a few squirrels tolerate her even though she takes up a lot of room. She doesn’t look at all malnourished. Wisely the cats leave her alone but keep an eye on her from the deck. She likes to come in the late afternoon. Only once have we seen her there in the morning. Where she spends the night we have no idea. Nor why she’s alone.
But I’ve come to think she’s joyful. For two reasons.
First, Edward Abbey, the nature writer, wrote in Desert Solitaire, “I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage, and without courage all the other virtues are useless.”
Gobbelina shows great courage. She even eyeballs us on the deck, doing our human things, coming and going, and concludes that the twenty-or-so feet that separate her from us and cats is enough. She shows no timidity. Although one day I scared her by getting a little too close for her comfort zone, and she flew off over the house and up the road, flapping her heavy, thick wings. I hoped I had not scared her away for good. In a day or so, she was back.
Second, Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet, wrote in a letter to a friend, “Only in joy does creation take place . . . joy is a marvelous increasing of what exists, a pure addition out of nothingness.”
I can’t help but think that, contrary to the scientists who tell us that animals (and other living things) do not experience joy, they do. And their instincts and survival mechanisms are really arts similar to ours. They too have skills, knowledge, know-how, and craft to create their lives, to increase what exists in their worlds and add something that did not exist before.
Gobbelina has created a routine that provides food. She probably noticed from the wooded hillside that other birds find food just off our deck, and concluded that the place was safe enough. She must have realized, as other birds do, that the people who provide this food are, although humans, not really too dangerous. And she most likely knew from some instinct that her size and weight should give her the advantage in a showdown with house cats. I can’t believe that she didn’t calculate all of this in some way, then with courage and creativity, took her chances.
It’s hard to tell whether a turkey is morose. But I would wager she is not. Fearful? Her head bobbing up from the ground every few seconds to check on things might suggest fear. But it’s a reasonable fear for her species, and I would suspect that, as in our own species, fear and courage can coexist. And so I like to imagine that she experiences joy, a state of consciousness we have no control over. It arises of its own from who knows where. It is a gift. Like a turkey, joy just shows up. Again to cite Rilke:
“Joy is a moment, unobligated, timeless from the beginning, not to be held but also not to be truly lost again, since under its impact our being is changed chemically, so to speak, and . . . savor(s) and enjoy(s) itself in a new mixture.”
I hope Gobbelina continues to visit us. She is a symbol of courage, living alone and exploring the world she lives in. She is a maker of her life, creating and savoring part of it here at our home where there is companionship and cheerfulness. She seems to display the art of living well. She brings joy.