Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bargaining and turkey cosmology

The hens huddled in the coop, chilled even though they were out of the rain.  Miserable weather and miserable hens – not a good combination.  Courtney and little Tiffany were a tiny bright spot in their lives right now, but even that was complicated by worries over the weather.  Tiffany was kept snuggled amongst three hens at all times, but the older hens were afraid that she was not thriving.  For one, the farmer wasn’t giving her poult feed.  The hens were breaking up the larger grains with their beaks, but Tiffany still was having difficulty with the food.  She also looked cold most of the time, but that might have been more their projecting what their fears were than reality.

Kiki, Lydia and Betty were huddled in another corner of the coop whispering to one another.  Doris could hear a word now and again.  It seemed they were trying to figure out a way to prevent their being slaughtered that did not involve trying to run away.  The hens all agreed that they wouldn’t last a week on their own, particularly at this time of year.  Some enterprising person would catch them and they’d just end up on someone else’s table.  

Doris understood their feelings.  She herself had reached the stage of acceptance, although it was still mixed with some depression, perhaps more regret than depression.  She would have loved to see Tiffany grow up and have poults of her own and die comfortably of old age, surrounded by her descendents.  She knew realistically this was quite unlikely, both the dying of old age and the comfortable part.  Even natural deaths usually involved some sort of pain and suffering.  The group in the corner appeared to be in the bargaining stage of grieving.  They were trying to figure out what exactly they could do to stave off death.  She decided to insert herself into the conversation.  She might be able to offer them some comfort, or at least be mildly amused by some of their ideas.  Kiki, Lydia and Betty were, well, a few cards short of a full deck might be a good way to describe them.

“Lydia, I still think that avian flu would be the best way to go.  We could all pretend that we had it, you know, cough a bit, sneeze a lot, and hang our heads like they were all stuffy – Bart wouldn’t want to give sick hens to the church.”  Ah, Doris thought.  This was Kiki’s big idea.  She shook her head.  They thought avian flu was like a cold that one got over and moved on with life.  Well, perhaps it was for birds, but the humans didn’t view it that way considering what happened when they contracted it.

“Ladies, you do know that if even one poultry bird on a farm is found to have avian flu that every bird on the farm is immediately slaughtered, correct?”  All three turned to her with horrified looks.  They were trying to avoid being slaughtered, not get killed for an entirely different reason.  “That wouldn’t mean just us turkeys.  They’d have to kill the chickens also.  It’s not as though I am at all fond of those cacklers, but I wouldn’t want them killed just because we thought it might save our necks.”

The other hens shook their heads.  They didn’t much care for the chickens either, but saw no reason for them to be killed.  Doris asked them what their other ideas had been, just in case one might actually be helpful.  Predictably, they’d wondered if they could stop eating and lose enough meat to be unattractive, but had decided that less than a week would make no difference overall in their body mass.  Betty had proposed digging a cellar under the coop where all the turkeys could hide until after the holiday.  Doris thought this idea might have had merit if they’d started digging, oh say, in June.  There was no way they could dig more than a deep wallow in the next few days before their claws gave out.   

Lydia felt that perhaps the Celestial Turkey might rescue them at the last minute if they were pious enough.  She shot a pointed look at Kiki, saying that if She did, that Kiki might not be rescued, as she was a truly hedonistic hen.  Doris, who had never heard of the Celestial Turkey, asked what in the world it or She was.  Lydia explained how the Celestial Turkey had hatched the world from a giant egg for the benefit of turkeys.  When She realized that the turkeys were lonely, she’d made chickens and geese and swans, and well, other birds.  Eventually all the birds had gone to the Celestial Turkey and asked for her to make them someone to help them do things they couldn’t.  They thought they’d like to have things like caves to stay out of the rain, and that fallen trees could be arranged into caves, except that turkeys were neither strong enough nor had the right kind of feet to do the work.  For their benefit, the Celestial Turkey created all sorts of other beings, but they weren’t quite right.  They weren’t smart enough, or didn’t have the right kind of hands (which the Celestial Turkey had invented).  

Finally the Celestial Turkey had created humans, and gave them the mission to care for turkeys.  This all went very well for thousands of years.  The humans grew grains that the turkeys liked to eat and kept wild animals from harming them.  The turkeys allowed the humans to have some of their extra eggs in gratitude for their help.  Eventually, though, the humans had more and more babies and started to run out of food.  They had discovered that many of the four-footed animals the Celestial Turkey had created tasted good, but they either had to be caught or cared for, and they didn’t like all the work caring for those animals.  They looked at the turkeys, who they were already caring for, and wondered if they’d taste good also.  So, they slaughtered a turkey and cooked it.  It was delicious.  The Celestial Turkey was furious, and sent terrible things to plague the humans.  Diseases, earthquakes, droughts, floods, you name it, the Celestial Turkey sent it.  The humans finally decided there was a correlation between slaughtering turkeys and the problems that kept happening.  One day while eating a turkey and wondering what terrible thing would happen next, one of the humans noticed an odd shaped bone in the center of the turkey’s breast.  It had a fork at the bottom and was attached at the top with a little tab that fit between two fingers.  One human was holding onto one of the ends, and another happened to pinch the other end as an earthquake started.  The first said, “Oh, I wish these things would stop happening.”  He fell off his seat, and as he fell the bone broke and he ended up with the larger half of the bone.  At that same instant the earthquake stopped all at once.  The humans who had eaten the turkey all looked at each other.  They’d discovered the secret – the way they could eat all the turkey they wanted and not have any more disasters.  Every time they slaughtered a turkey, two of them would hold the bone and wish that there wouldn’t be any disaster or disease or anything else bad happen.  

Now, the Celestial Turkey had put that special bone in the turkeys as a sign of Her regard for them.  It was the wish bone that was imbued with Her wishes for their health and happiness.  The humans perverted that wish into a way to protect themselves at the expense of the turkeys.  From that time on, humans have been able to eat turkeys safely, and the Celestial Turkey has been much less able to interfere in humans’ affairs.  But sometimes, rarely, but it still can happen, She intervenes in the lives of turkeys and humans.  Perhaps Lydia said, if we appeal to Her, She will save us.  

Doris blinked in amazement.  Where had Lydia heard this tale from, and was it a tale or was it the truth?  Kiki and Betty looked at Lydia with respect and asked what one must do to show respect and reverence for the Celestial Turkey.  Lydia looked up for a moment and began to describe a ritual involving scratching, crowing and head-bobbing.  She went over the details of the ritual several times with Kiki and Betty who then went to share it with the other hens.  

Doris looked at Lydia.  “Lydia, dear, you were raised here, and I knew your mother very well.   Who told you this…story?”

“Oh, it came to me in a vision one day when I was just a jenny, wondering about how this old world came to be.  It’s the only thing that makes sense, don’t you think?”  She looked innocently at Doris.  

Doris looked hard at Lydia.  It was an interesting tale, but she wondered if Lydia had concocted it to give the other hens hope, or if she truly had a vision.  It probably wouldn’t matter if it was made up, though, if it gave the hens some focus during their last days.  “Yes, Lydia, it does make some sense.  I’m just surprised you didn’t mention it up until now.”

“Well, I always thought of it as kind of a private type of vision, but I felt that the other hens could take comfort from it, and that perhaps the Celestial Turkey will intervene and save us all.  I’ve been asking Her for that ever since I heard about what was going to happen, and just thought they should know.”

Indeed, thought Doris, who wandered off to consider for the first time in her life how the world was made and where turkeys fit into the scheme of life.  

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