We’re all bloated with candy. The costumes are stashed in the closet. Halloween is in the rearview.
But I think November has its own macabre side: the trees drop leaves, shedding into tall, gray bones. Cold rain, flurries, empty forests.
And we celebrate this drab month by eating stuffed turkeys, right?
So let’s meld holidays for a few hundred words.
It’s the scariest “goat” story you’ve ever heard. And it starts with one dead turkey.
Last Friday, I walked to the fence of my small farm, through the slow, rolling, midmorning fog.
My farm had (notice the tense, had) a burgeoning population of turkeys — beautiful birds — and on a normal morning they gobble frantically when they hear me come through the gate.
On Friday, there was no gobbling — should have been my first warning.
The goats were unfazed by all the blatant foreshadowing. The goats heard my footsteps, and the five — all cashmere, a random assortment of misfits, runts, eunuchs, left for dead, rescued — started to call out, inciting the normal morning feeding frenzy.
I fended off Ma, the ill-mannered four-legged matriarch of the farm as she bucked up, trying to knock the feed bucket from my hand. I raised my knee as Stew, the huge black pest of a goat jumped up, just to be a bother, his motivation in almost every situation.
As I dealt with the goat riot, I looked up to the barn. On the side of the sandy hill leading up to the barn, there was a patch of white. Snow?
Nope. As I approached, goats in tow, I saw the form of a turkey, dead, heaped in the dirt.
At first, I didn’t see the slice on her jugular. I naively assumed she died of cold, or fright.
Farm life is not pretty. Any ideas or ideals you have going in mean very little: It’s as gross as it is freeing, (I pull a slightly decomposed, drowned rat from the water trough at least twice a week) and as mind-fryingly stressful (the goats are like petulant kids kicking over sandcastles — they love to ruin everything you spend time and effort on) as it is peaceful.
Trying to keep a turkey safe is a fool’s errand. They always wander exactly where they shouldn’t. They get stuck behind fences. They are barely flight-worthy. They have almost no survival extinct, and they’re basically gigantic walking turkey-jerky snacks, easily accessible to any self-respecting predator.
And these turkeys were being snacked upon.
I carried the dead turkey up toward the barn and set it down on a stump.
I spotted another turkey, just in front of the back fence. Or what was left of him —headless, his brown plumage stained with blood, the dirt beside him saturated. Ichabird Crane.
This turkey definitely wasn’t scared to death. I, the self-appointed turkey coroner, confidently ruled his death a homicide.
I decided to search the back pasture, a narrow forest about 100 feet across, stretching about half an acre into the woods. The trees are all browned pines stretching up, twisted and gnarled, close together, the dry branches always snapping, the trees always slightly swaying, as if drunk.
I walked the back fence to the end, and sure enough, I saw a patch of snow-white feathers on the soggy autumn leaves.
A bread-crumb trail of feathers led me to the left side of the fence, where I found two ripped-apart turkey legs and handfuls of feathers.
Trick or treat — here’s a turkey carcass. Some fisher cat out there must have been feeling pretty thankful for a such a bountiful harvest of turkey organs.
As I walked back toward the farm, two more legs, one more corpse.
The cleanup began. I emptied out a sack and wandered around the farm, collecting feet, organs and scraps of turkey like a macabre Santa Claus on the worst scavenger hunt ever imagined.
And I know the irony — these birds were bred to be on a plate, right? What does it matter if the raccoons or fisher cats skipped Halloween and dived, paws first, into Thanksgiving?
Pride, and the duties of animal husbandry. I was tasked, as all farmers are, with rearing the animals, giving them a good, gobbly life before making a delicious return on the investment.
Instead, I was burying them all in a mass grave along the property line.
Eight turkeys lost their short, bird-brained lives that day. Exhausted, I went to sleep, images of dead poultry and plucked feathers swimming in my brain.
The fun wasn’t over. We didn’t live on Elm Street, but the nightmare remained.
The predator slaughtered four more birds early last Saturday morning. One turkey tried to escape; I found her half-stuck in the panels of a metal fence, her attempts to flee met with no sign of mercy. Three more sets of chewed-up parts.
By then, the ragtag band of survivors looked weary, haggard with the raw effort of survival. I feebly tried to pen them, but they were free range and they weren’t willing to give up their freedom. Give turkeys liberty, or give them death.
Sunday and Monday were quiet and calm as the four survivors huddled close to the barn for warmth as the unrelenting cold of the Crooked River Valley set in.
On Tuesday, a trap was set, covered in hay, cat food as a lure, waiting for the greedy murderer to climb in and face justice.
No predator has been apprehended. I can only imagine finally catching the fearsome creature who has haunted my dreams. But, I guess some lucky, bloated animal is pretty thankful right now. Thanksgiving came early.
Maybe I’ll uncover the hay atop the trap, only to reveal the cute masked face of a scared raccoon, wielding a tiny machete. Freddy Krueger looks awfully cute on the farm.
Or perhaps I’ll find a fisher cat dressed as a tiny pilgrim. Or a fat coyote dressed as Santa.