Farm City, Deeply Rooted, and Each Featherless Wing

Turkey bones and veges for soup According to The Wall Street Journal, 46 million domestic, farm-raised turkeys were devoured this week (including the 13 pound turkey whose bones have been stewing in my soup kettle until an hour ago).  It’s probably fair to say that none of us ever saw “our bird” fully feathered, or heard it gobble, or knew whether a “hen” or a “jake” was gracing our dinner platter.  I haven’t had this kind of intimate relationship with a Thanksgiving turkey since leaving our Wyoming ranch a few years ago, and I miss it. 
7J Outfitter Wild Turkey The picture below was taken by Seven J Outfitters on land adjacent to our ranch. I do not know these hunters but no doubt I’ve seen this turkey’s brethren foraging on our hay meadow. These are the same turkeys my son and daughter watched through the seasons when growing up, including hunting season.  “If they’re too many jakes,” my son once told me, “they’ll harass the nesting hens, and not enough eggs will hatch.”  He used to spend days out in the woods, studying the bands of wild turkeys. If this photo stirs you in any way, I hope you’ll respond by posting a comment.
In the fall, the wild turkeys that I used to share this land with loved to graze the acorns that gathered beneath the bur oaks.  They also loved the hay meadows, where it was harder for a coyote or bob cat to sneak up on them. I imagine they still do. 
Had the 46 million domestic turkeys eaten this week been born wild, like the Merriam’s wild turkey of the ponderosa forests of the West, only 25 percent of them might have survived beyond their first few weeks of life.  Those that did might have lived for a year or two, maybe three, but it’s the rare and wise wild turkey that could escape both disease and predation to see a tenth birthday. 
Like the coyotes who prey on the turkeys, I find myself mostly at peace with the role of predator.  My eyes, like the coyote’s or the eagle’s or the mountain lion’s or the fox, are located in the front of my head. My teeth, too, are designed for tearing flesh.  I trust nature’s grand design.  What I am not at peace with are the insidious and mutated forms of predation that now seem to define our species. 
Farm City Yesterday, with the taste of Thanksgiving still lingering on my tongue, and memories still stirring my heart, I read an article on the New York Time’s book editors’ top 10 reads for 2009.  Dwight Garner’s selections included the memoir Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. “A moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world,” wrote the publisher Penguin Press, “and what we’ve given up to live the way we do.”
The intersection of anything rural and urban intrigues me.  Here was a memoir about a young woman who grubbed out a small garden plot from a dirt lot in a drug-infested ghetto in Oakland and started growing not only herbs and vegetables, but ducks and rabbits and even two Red Duroc pigs.  I clicked on a link to Garner’s June 11 book review:
“At heart,” he writes, “Farm City is more about Ms. Carpenter’s experiences with livestock than it is about growing plump tomatoes. In fact Farm City is a serious, if tragicomic, meditation on raising and then killing your own animals. She wants to have “a dialogue with life,” she writes, and realizes she can do that only by also having a dialogue with death.”
Bravo, Ms. Carpenter!  We Americans shy away from death, or at least from hands-on death.  We shy away from admitting that nothing lives that something does not die.   We rarely anoint our own dead, and rarely wonder about the lives of the things we eat to nourish our own bodies.
DeeplyRootedYesterday I was also reading High Country News.  I came across Andrea Appleton’s review of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa Hamilton. (November 9, High Country News).  “In this narrative nonfiction book,” writes the publisher, “Hamilton tells three stories, of an African-American dairyman in Texas who plays David to the Goliath of agribusiness corporations; a tenth-generation rancher in New Mexico struggling to restore agriculture as a pillar of his community; and a modern pioneer family in North Dakota…”  Click here for a SLIDE SHOW of the people in these three stories.  Click here to read Appleton’s REVIEW, “For farmers, small is beautiful.”
This year’s turkey carcass has been simmering on the stove for two days.  When I took the pot out of the refrigerator this morning, the broth was a thick, protein-rich gelatin.  The meat is now  stripped from the bones and I’m about to dice the celery and chop the onions and shred the carrots.  Making this soup feels like an act of gratitude, a prayerful way to spend a few hours regardless of whether the turkey lived a wild life, or a confined one.  But I will miss the slight taste of wild acorns that used to grace the Thanksgiving soup I made back at the ranch.  I will squeeze all the intimacy from these bones that I can—each leg bone, each rib, each featherless and flightless wing.
Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, Counterpoint Press, May, 2009.
Farm City, Novella Carpenter, The Penguin Press, June, 2009.


Glad you enjoyed the post, Ange. Thanks for the comment!
Jan Truchot said…
There are many wonderful things about our move from Sundance to Laramie, but I truly miss the turkeys that used to parade through our yard... The toms with their blue heads and rustling wings and then the hens with their chicks like feathery footballs following.
Not many know the privilege of living with wild turkeys...thanks for reminding me!
Anonymous said…
I always love your ability to bring conflicting points of view into a grounded perspective with space for thoughtful dialogue. The turkeys that roam our woods & my lawn are always a treat to come upon, though I don't think they look nearly as majestic as the one in your photo! Check out this post by Maira Kalman for another perspective on our eating/farming habits in the U.S.:
Thanks for the beautiful image at the end of your piece! Julie
Jan, we were indeed blessed to live among the wild turkeys! I have seen a few here, and heard them while hiking, but not in abundance. I flushed a hen out of the trees a few months ago and watched her awkward flight into a nearby Ponderosa. No bur oaks and acorns here!
Julie, thank you for the link to Maira Kalman's NY Times piece - what a fabulous visual narrative! I'll forward the link to my Twitter and Facebook connections. For yet another take on Maira's comment about the connection between democracy and the bounty of the land, go to THE SIX NATIONS: OLDEST LIVING PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY ON EARTH (the Iroquois): Our Founding Fathers owe them a great debt.
Kathy H said…
Hi Page! As you know, we live about a mile from you over in Cody Park. We have a flock of wild turkeys that show up in our woods from time to time. We didn't see them on Thanksgiving Day, however! Smart birds! ;-)
How great the wild turkeys flock to Cody Park too! And yes, smart birds to avoid all of us on or near Thanksgiving.
Urban Gardens said…
The urban farming subject is of particular interest to me since starting my own blog, Urban Gardens ( that, I didn't know much about it apart from having read a bit of Michael Pollan and having received Corby Kummer's cookbook, The Pleasures of Slow Food. I think even city folks feel something almost spiritual having some kind of connection to the earth and access to fresh food and knowing where it comes from isn't a bad thing for anyone.
Page Lambert said…
Robin, your new blog is fabulous! The Slow Food movement has many interesting ramifications - wide spread cultural ripples that we are sorely in need of. Thank you!
Lyla Hamilton said…
Hi, Page,

My favorite among your blogs is always the one I've just read.

While I don't think I ever met a turkey before it became the center of interest at Thanksgiving, I remember not much liking pheasant when I was a child. My father apparently had mediocre aim. We ate carefully, watching for the buckshot that could break a tooth.
Page Lambert said…
Lyla, I love your "buckshot pheasant" story! And thanks for the nice "favorite blog" comment. Did you still vote for a few?
Christy Heady said…
Page, when I read your blog, in particular this one, I feel as if I am receiving an invitation to shed my city girl ways. Learning about the travels of a turkey from your perspective rather than the usual media blitz Thanksgiving report on television is soothing, welcoming, and nurturing. I love how you tie in other books, links to slideshows and book reviews that bring home your point about a simple animal who symbolizes gratitude at our November dinner tables.

Christy Heady
Page Lambert said…
Thank you, Christy. I have a collection of turkey feathers, and one that travels with me in my car. They are great reminders!
Dina Horwedel said…
I love this meditation because it recognizes that all of us, rural or urban, need to recognize our role in nature, and part of that role is death. That has become sanitized as people have moved away from the farm and our food has become big business. As a result, you remind us that we have lost something sacred along the way.
Page Lambert said…
Dina, thank you for your comment. How do we re-establish our connection with the cycles of nature, our own cycles, which as you say, we seem to have lost? The urge to do so seems to be rising up in every walk of life, and perhaps therein lies the hope.

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