Back to Nature (Published on - Nov. 24, 2004)
The turkey – symbol of sharing
Ho, Brother Turkey! So freely you give, Of everything that you are, So others may truly live.
– Native American Blessing

Wild turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo, are the largest birds in North America. They’re generally weak flyers but can maintain 50 miles an hour for short distances. Turkeys prefer to run using their stout legs rather than fly. For safety they roost in trees by night. Each male has a harem of hens which he summons early each morning.

Wild turkeys generally prefer forested areas with scattered openings and sparse-to-moderate groundcover vegetation. In Florida, Turkeys are found in hardwood swamps and hammocks, cypress swamps, mixed hardwood-pine habitats, pine flatwoods, turkey oak ridges, the edges of dry prairies, and seasonally flooded sloughs, ponds and marshes. Different habitats are needed for nesting, brood rearing, foraging, roosting, and escape.

A preferred nesting habitat consists of dense, knee-high vegetation, such as low-growing saw palmetto. After the brood hatches, turkeys move to areas with a thin over-story of trees and low, grassy groundcover. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, Jan. 6. Florida’s breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida’s birdlife.

Native Americans hold the turkey in high esteem. The turkey is sometimes referred to as the eagle of the south or Earth Eagle. It is the symbol of all the blessings from Mother Earth. It is the symbol among many tribes of nobility and the willingness to sacrifice itself for others and self.

Success in our society is measured by how many toys, how many things, how big and how expensive, how big a dinner can be thrown and how many guests can be impressed. Personal spending is out of control. We use and then throw away. We say thanks for this earth and then abuse it.

Native Americans revere the turkey as a symbol that Creator/Great Spirit resides in all our hearts. This sentiment is not meant as a religious, moral or setting of guilt. This symbol is an embodiment of giving and not taking more than our share.

“For my part,” Benjamin Franklin declared, “I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes the fish. With all this injustice, he is never in good case.”

Franklin argued that the turkey would have been a more appropriate symbol.

“A much more respectable bird and a true native of America,” he pointed out. Franklin conceded that the turkey was “a little vain and silly,” but maintained that it was nevertheless a “bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” Congress was not convinced, however. The eagle remained our national symbol. (National Wildlife Federation)

We’ve become a people of materialism which prevents the spirit from touching the earth. The Christian leader, Jesus prayed in the garden. In the garden it is said he felt closest with God when back to nature. To many Native Americans, the turkey teaches respect for our planet, respect for each other, respect for ourselves and to let go of selfishness, act and react on behalf of others. Doing unto others and nurturing the people is the message of all true spiritual systems.

Perhaps we can take a moment out of our lives this Thanksgiving and calm ourselves and reflect on what is important in our lives, what we can live with or live without. Perhaps we can take a walk in a garden, park or wild natural place and thank the noble turkey for reminding us of our earthly tasks: Give of ourselves, respect Creator by taking care of our sacred planet and treat each other with giving, loving care, back to nature.

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