So maybe you remember the turkey escapade that I mentioned a few weeks ago? (Or maybe not, because I talk a lot.) Well, today I’m back to share the (very long) story. I’ll confess, right off the bat, that it doesn’t have the happy ending that we’d hoped it would. That’s fairly typical of life, I guess–going where it needs to and not necessarily where I want it to. But it’s pretty much a given that if I can’t find a silver lining, then I’m going to make one. And so in spite of our heartbreak at not having been able to save this one sweet turkey, we’re hoping to create an opportunity for Lucky Penny to “save” others. So make yourself comfy, grab a cup of tea, and settle in for the Great & Daring Turkey Rescue…
The Christmas spirit infects us pretty early around here; one year I put up our tree in October and never felt even a pang of regret. (And then we might possibly have enjoyed it on into March…) As soon as the weather gets cold enough for the woodstove, warm socks, cozy sweaters, and frosty mornings, that’s when one of us inevitably starts to hum a Christmas tune. Or casually mentions a Christmas movie. Or starts brainstorming gift ideas. Perhaps someone (me) even begins planning a scrumptious holiday feast.
So it wasn’t a surprise to any of us when, several weeks ago, I decided the time had come to start stitching some cute tree ornaments. With pins already pinned on Pinterest and my list of supplies compiled, my fingers were itching to get to work. A trip to Michaels craft store was in order, and both Jordan and Riley Mae joined me on our first unofficial Christmas outing. (But I can assure you, it won’t be our last.)
We were almost back home again–bags happily stuffed with felt, thread, and other necessities–when Riley Mae (always on the lookout for birds) noticed something peculiar. There’s a turkey laying by the side of the road, she said, immediately concerned. Turn around, Mom, she insisted. We can’t leave it there; we have to go back. So obviously, we did.
Pulling up alongside this beautiful bird, something was clearly amiss. She lay very close to the edge of the road and didn’t make any effort to move as we parked nearby. But the opening and closing of multiple car doors, plus the arrival of three humans on the scene, finally prompted the desperate instinct of fight or flight. In an uncoordinated flurry of wings–and with great effort–she managed to drag herself across the road. Watching her struggle, we immediately saw the cause of her immobility: something was terribly wrong with her legs. The poor bird was unable to stand, let alone walk.
Paint the Scene
So before I go on, I feel like I should take just a minute to describe the scene–mostly because it plays such a huge factor in how this story unfolded. As if catching an injured, wild bird wasn’t going to be hard enough, our surroundings had to make it a million times trickier. (Hence, the daring part of this whole bird adventure.)
The grassy place where we first spotted her was innocent and safe enough, nicely set on a quiet country road, off of a much busier route. So while no vehicles other than a lone tractor passed us while we labored to rescue this bird, just beyond us cars were passing quickly. I imagine more than one wondered what the heck we were up to, but no one stopped to ask, and so we were left to our own devices. Well, that’s not entirely true–both my nephew and our guru later came to our aid–but I’ll get to that in due time.
We found the turkey on the right side of the street (aptly named Valley Road), which is sparsely sprinkled with houses. And by sparsely, I mean that all I saw was the one whose driveway I used to turn around in multiple times. Guardrails line the left side of the road, which was shadowed by the remaining fall foliage of numerous tall trees. Just beyond the guardrail lay a thick carpet of wet, fallen leaves covered in an untamed tangle of briars, thorns, and bittersweet. This was all “nicely” peppered with poison ivy. Beyond that, it was all downhill–sharply downhill–and at the distant bottom lay a trickle of water.
It was impossible to see beyond the jungle of growth whether or not the way down was just crazy steep, or a ridge with an abrupt drop to the bottom. Either way, it was scary precipitous. Not only was it covered in slippery leaves, but also (inconveniently) adorned with treacherously loose fallen logs. It made for a formidable landscape, and basically, not one I had any interest in navigating. But you can probably guess in which direction this whole story is going, right? Because yes, navigate it we did.
Nest of Thorns
With the scene now set, let me take you back to the turkey who had just somehow managed to pull herself across the road. She was lying scared and tense, almost under the guardrail. It was a stressful moment because I knew she was just gathering strength, and if she made it under those rails she’d be beyond our help. I motioned for Riley Mae to grab the blanket from the back of the car and shot up a quick prayer (my first of many) that I could trap her underneath it before she careened down the slope.
Which unfortunately…is exactly what happened. The careening, I mean. Seeing our movement, and in a panicked frenzy to escape her perceived predators (us), she hauled herself under the rail and began to roll and thrash her way downhill. She didn’t get very far (but far enough) before a nest of thorns and briars caught her fast–with one wing stuck in the branches above her head, and her useless legs bent beneath her. She watched us with liquid brown eyes: trapped, and with no way to save herself.
Left Her Behind
The three of us soberly assessed the situation, trying to formulate some (any) kind of plan. Climbing over the rail to reach her seemed far too risky; leaving her behind seemed far too sad. But after throwing out several unfeasible ideas, we agreed there wasn’t anything more we could do. With a defeated, I guess we just let nature take its course, we solemnly and silently climbed back into the car and headed for home.
But once there, we couldn’t stop thinking about her. Or talking about her. And I couldn’t stop seeing those eyes and knowing that we were likely her only chance at survival. How could we just leave her there? The answer is, we couldn’t. So we started to formulate Plan B. (Not that we’d really had much of a Plan A.)
Jordan started with phone calls to our bird vet and the local Audubon Society (neither of which could help, but did give us more numbers to try). More calls and more messages, and all the while many minutes ticked passed. What choice did we have but to go back? Only this time, we went armed with gloves, boots, rope, and a crate filled with fresh straw. The one glitch that I could see in our tenuous Plan B was that I wouldn’t be strong enough to carry this enormous bird back up the slope once I had caught her. (Because we fully intended to catch her.) But with one more phone call to my muscular nephew, Payne (who quickly agreed to meet us there), we resolutely headed back.
Our new grand plan was to tie myself to the guardrail (with Jordan holding tightly to the other end of the rope as an extra precaution) and pick my way down to the trapped bird. We weren’t at all sure it would work, but with no other options currently on our plate, we had to try. Riley Mae’s parting words to me were, Mom, I’m going to be really, really mad at you if you die. Right before she ushered us out the door, saying, But hurry.
When we got back to the turkey, she was in the same place as where we’d left her: wing still up, and caught in the nest of brambles. I didn’t waste any time suiting up (although we did pause long enough to laugh at ourselves and the situations we constantly find ourselves in). But unfortunately, our second rescue mission ended as abruptly as the first; as soon as I’d climbed over the rail and crept just a little bit closer, the bird panicked. Tearing herself loose, she rolled farther down the hill and even more out of reach. This time coming to rest completely inside a new bush of prickly undergrowth. Still watching us, and likely wondering when this nightmare would end.
By now, a rescue looked much closer to impossible. I didn’t even think I could fight my way through the mess of thorny branches, let alone get her out and then back up to the car. Jordan and I puzzled it out some more, before finally turning away in defeat. Again. Failure didn’t feel like an option, but it definitely looked like the only option. Leaving meant giving up on her, and that felt so wrong. But for the second time, we climbed silently back into the car and headed home.
Jordan and I were mostly quiet as she texted Payne, telling him we were aborting the mission and he might as well turn back, too. And while I admit that outwardly it looked like we’d given up, inwardly my brain was still whirring. What hadn’t we tried? What hadn’t I thought of? I must have missed something, but what?
Through it all, I could hear my guru emphatically whispering in my ear; making sure that I could clearly hear his advice. (He’s lovingly persistent like that.) The answer is already in you, he said repeatedly on that short drive home. And about halfway there, I threw out idea #100 to Jordan: Maybe if we walked down the road a little farther, there would be a more open spot and we could circle back around to her. Maybe. What do you think?
And like me, Jordan was willing to reach for anything, no matter how unlikely it seemed. Because we both knew that as far as we could see down Valley Road, the landscape had looked the same–a thorny and tangled mess. But still, all we needed was one tiny, clear gap. One tiny, clear gap that perhaps we had somehow missed. Yes, it was desperate, but so were we.
At the exact same time as this grandiose plan was being discussed, my nephew texted saying that he’d arrived at Valley Road. He decided he was going to take a look around before leaving. With our hope easily renewed and a feeble Plan C in place, we turned the car around again and hoped it would be the last time. But honestly, I’m thinking we probably would have turned that car around a dozen more times if we’d had to.
Third time’s a charm, right? And it was. The situation was exactly as we’d left it, so Jordan and I started walking up and down the road. We were actively searching for a break through the undergrowth, or maybe even a spot that didn’t look so treacherously steep. But while we were busy scouting out the land, my nephew decided not to waste any more time planning. (I can’t really blame him; so far our plans had fallen desperately short.) And without saying a word, he climbed over the guardrail, effectively taking matters into his own hands. We watched silently as he started making his careful way down the slippery slope and through a small opening between the trees.
Trying to stay hopeful, we tossed him both the blanket and the rope, but the situation looked bleak. If it was so daunting going down (without an extremely heavy load in his arms), then how was it going to be coming back up? But my nephew loves a challenge, and if anyone was going to succeed at this, it was definitely going to be him. I sent out a silent and heartfelt apology to my sister as I watched him make his way slowly over loose logs and disappear from sight.
And what’s left to do in a moment where everything’s beyond my control? Pray, obviously. And as we heard the bird take yet another tumble, Jordan came to the same conclusion. (And we later found out that Riley Mae was at home sending up fervent prayers of her own.) So together (although unknown to each other) the three of us pleaded with Guru for his protection and help. And with the tremendous force of our combined prayers, it was only minutes later that we heard my nephew triumphantly crow, I got the bird!
But it Wasn’t
Sorry, this story is taking much longer to tell than even I’d thought it would. But I guess if you’ve made it this far, you probably want to hear how it all ends. And while I’d like to say the rescue was easy going from this point on, it wasn’t. From start to finish, not much of anything about this adventure was easy. But as soon as I heard that she’d been caught, it spurred me into immediate action; picking up the rope that Payne had disdainfully dropped, I started making my way down to him. If he had reached the turkey, then obviously, so could I.
Hidden somewhere in the undergrowth, I found them. With turkey in arms, it was Payne’s turn to be caught in a nest of prickers; many thorns had found purchase in his long, blond hair. Thankfully, the bird had tucked her head and gone into shock when he caught her. Motionless, she lay there as if dead, which was an enormous godsend as Payne patiently waited for me to set him free.
With his arms mostly full of a limp and heavy turkey, I kept the prickers at bay and cleared the way out. And with the help of the bittersweet vines, we kept pulling ourselves up and along. When we got back within sight of Jordan, I immediately noticed the rope. Or more specifically, the end of the rope, nonchalantly held in her hands. She had let out nearly the whole length of it in allowing me to reach Payne, and I realized that had I started to slide, she likely would have come with me. Riley Mae’s words of warning flashed through my mind as I told Jordan to tie us up–quickly. And using the anchored rope, we pulled ourselves up the last slippery slope.
So here we are: The turkey has been lovingly captured, and all humans are now on the safe side of the guardrail. Things were definitely looking up. And our hope was that if we’d been able to get this far, it meant that she had a fighting chance. We quickly tucked her–still frozen in shock–gently in the crate. And after expressing our deep gratitude to Payne, we disbanded and headed home again. For the third time. But on this final trip–both Jordan and I giddy with triumph (and a substantial amount of disbelief)–we had a silent turkey in tow.
Of course we still had no idea what we were going to do with her; none of our calls thus far had yielded anything. Sliding the crate into the garage, we covered her with a sheet, shut the doors, and left her in the cool and quiet darkness while we tried to figure out what to do. Turns out, I’m pretty sure that what we did was illegal (“keeping” a wild animal; now you know), but when a life is at stake, what’re you going to do? And while I understand that the laws are in place to protect her, we were just buying ourselves a little bit of time. I would have done the same for a dog or a cat, although probably with more caution. At least birds don’t carry rabies.
We left her alone, made some more calls, and about an hour later I went back to peek in on her. She had lifted her head and settled herself cautiously in the crate, all the while eyeing us with distrust. Jordan and I sat on the steps just a couple feet away, talking quietly, discussing our options, and maybe admiring some shimmery feathers. And while we talked, the craziest thing happened: this bird, who had absolutely no reason to trust humans, somehow knew she could trust us. And the longer we talked there, the more relaxed she became. As our quiet conversation continued, her eyelids grew heavier and heavier…until she closed them in sleep.
I’m not going to lie, we fell in love pretty abruptly. Okay, immediately. Here was this bird, forcibly taken from her natural habitat, trapped in a completely foreign environment, severely wounded, and yet still making the choice to trust us. It was somehow heartbreaking and heartwarming, all at the same time–especially when we later found out the details of her injuries. Her trust in humans should have been at about nil.
And even though we knew she’d only be with us for the briefest of visits, we decided to christen her with a name. After doing a search about the symbolism of turkeys, we discovered that they’re a beautiful and very good omen, signifying gifts and abundance. There’s an element of sacrifice, a letting go of old things to herald in the new. Everything we read about them was lovely and encouraging, and somehow in the course of our search, the name Penny came into play. To which Lucky was quickly added. As in–find a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck. Without further discussion, the name stuck, and henceforth our good omen turkey shall be called Lucky Penny.
It took us a day and a half to find a wildlife rehab who would take her in. In the meantime, I offered her water (which was steadfastly refused) and kept her as quiet as possible. As soon as the door would open for our regular check-ins, she’d start rolling in panic, but we quickly discovered the secret to calming her. It was as simple as…our voices. Always gentle and always calm, they somehow put her at ease. Every time. In spite of the language barriers, she easily understood that we meant her no harm.
And bright and early on that Sunday morning, Taylor and I made our way to the wildlife rehab. The facilities were beautiful, the staff super friendly, and they had success stories galore of rehabilitated wild animals. I’d carefully studied Lucky Penny’s legs while she’d been with us and saw that they were a horrifying mess–torn up and bent at abnormal angles. But this place gave me hope. The staff handed us a phone number and encouraged us to call and check in; so I said my goodbyes and walked away. All I could feel was relief that she was in such competent hands.
But, truthfully, I was too scared to call back the next day. I told myself that the longer I waited, the more (encouraging) the info they would have to give me. It was a cop-out, I know, but it wasn’t until two days later that I summoned the courage to check-in. Here’s what I was told:
First, she was a he. Riley Mae had had her suspicions, but since we’d never seen a beard, we had to assume it was a lady. We were wrong, but we’re sticking with our name choice.
Second, they had found multiple fractures of the legs and at least one of the wing (no surprise there). There may have been more, but I didn’t ask because the next bit of info stopped me cold.
Third, he’d been all shot up and was full of pellets.
Fourth, he’d been euthanized.
My heart simultaneously broke and filled with tremendous anger. This beautiful, living creature had been the object of sport. (And I’m not going to lie, I say that with great disdain.) It was pretty terrible, especially remembering those eyes: so filled with intelligence, patience, and trust. Not once in his time with us had he shown any aggression. Not once, despite what was probably incredible pain. When I relayed the message to the girls, it was definitely with a heavy heart.
And the story should end here, right? But it seems like a waste of a perfectly beautiful life to have the story end here. (Not that his existence didn’t have value and worth without any help from me.) But it was an ugly and unnecessary death, and I sought some kind of balance. I needed to find my silver lining to give his pain purpose, and also to relieve myself of the mounting anger I was harboring towards humans.
So since my brain never really stops working, it devised a plan. Remember that bag of felt that led us to Lucky Penny in the first place? Well, I decided that we should use it in his honor, and give his life (and death) the power to help other turkeys. Other turkeys who’ve been given a real and true second chance at life.
Hard at Work
So for the past several weeks now, the girls and I have been hard at work. My original plan of sewing tree ornaments is still in place, but now we’re making them in honor of, and in service to, our friend Lucky Penny. Our goal is to raise $150 to sponsor the flock of turkeys living out the rest of their days safely at Farm Sanctuary. These (truly) lucky turkeys found themselves with the second chance that our guy didn’t get.
If you head on over to our shop (here) you’ll find all of our felt creations listed for fundraising purposes. For the purchase price of $10 each (U.S. shipping included), you can buy the ornament of your choosing, and your money will go towards the sponsorship of the Farm Sanctuary turkey flock. If we somehow make more than the required amount, we’ll simply find more turkeys to sponsor. I can’t help but think that this all seems especially fitting at this time of year.
We don’t really have any idea if our plan will work, but it’s not going to stop us from trying. Perhaps this is just us, being hopeful yet again. But maybe not; maybe you think that Lucky Penny deserves this, too.
It’s taken me at several weeks to be able to write this post without feeling furious. But the one thing I’m grateful for is that the last humans he had contact with weren’t ones who saw him as dinner or entertainment. The last humans that he had contact with saw him as he was, a big and beautiful life worth living. I’m grateful that the last humans he knew valued him enough to believe he was worth all the dangers of helping. I’m glad the last humans he knew were us.
But I’m left with this one question that seems to have no answer: Was Penny lucky that we found him, or were we lucky for having found Penny? I’m not sure, but I somehow think the luck was all ours.
Happy trails, Lucky Penny.