Okay that’s a lie. Anyone who knows me has heard me grumble more that once about a forecast for the frozen white stuff.
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Fall 2023 Wasatch Hills
Every September I’m working those mindfulness skills double time; to be present; to stay tucked comfortably inside the warm hearth of autumn as it lights up the Wasatch range in all its fiery glory. This is because I know, despite a most stalwart determination, that at the first hint of frost I will be lured by those earliest of icy daggers down the dark hallway of pre-season dread.
For those of you who know, you know what I’m talking about!
Frosted Turkey Tail Mushroom
Frosted Oak Leaf
Hoar Frost at Utah Lake
Just say sNOOOOOOOw, and I am ready to pack my bag and head south. At least that’s what my imaginary self is doing.
As for the real me, I’m toughing it out in the foothills. Because even during these winter weather days I still find myself out there.
I often think back to my early childhood in Wyoming. Back to a time when winter did excite me. When I was very young, snowy days meant sledding, attempting to build snow men, making snow angels, and spending many magical hours immersed in a blanket of fallen stars.
Then, in my sixth year, my family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. And I missed the snow! I even prayed for snow that first winter and to my own and everyone else’s surprise, this prayer was answered: just for a single day. But it was enough accumulation to build a snowman taller than myself and to make one seven year old girl very happy.
So what happened?
We moved to north central Montana the year I turned twelve. Maybe if my family had stayed in Wyoming, this move wouldn’t have seemed such a harsh transition. But after six years of living in near constant sun, where winter temperature might dip to a tepid 60 degrees in mid January, my family and I were ill prepared for extended August to April winters with near constant winds that often drove temperatures to well below freezing.
Needless to say, the two years I endured in that climate forever affected my love of winter and of snow.
Fast forward a handful of decades. Having moved once again from a lovely temperate climate along the west coast of Oregon to a seasonally cold Utah, I still am working on resurrecting that inner child who once looked forward to and enjoyed winter and snow.
Like I mentioned above, I usually make my way out to the hills or to the shores of Utah Lake, even in the heart of darkness (winter).
Frozen Utah Lake
Utah Lake WInter Scape
Utah Lake in December
I may yearn for the golden, tank top days of spring and summer as I apply layer after layer of outer apparel. However, once I get myself out the door I am more often than not still surprised by wonder. I even find myself rekindling that sense of play that I worry might become diminished by the rigidity of age and an attitude that has trouble finding altitude during these cold months. Cold air goes down, not up after-all, so am I not just fighting a natural trend here?
Still, at the end of February, as we are standing on that seasonal threshold with one foot hasting into spring, I can look back on this past winter along the Wasatch frontand upon the previous ones and say, snow and ice can be pretty fun! And also just plain pretty…even breathtakingly so.
Juni and the Giant (Snowman)
Beauty in WInter
Icicle Chandalier over Creek
Me Skating at Utah Lake
Snow seal by Juni and Sienna
Stormy Sunrise Water Tower
“Snoctopus” by Juni and Sienna
Sienna Sledding in the Foothills
Looking back to the Lake in Winter
And I think I might even miss it the tiniest bit this year. Though I am not sure I will remember this once I am enveloped in the joyous robe of riotous spring. But then again, just maybe I will..
One of my earliest recollections regarding a bird whose crossed star rises every fall here in north America, the turkey, occurs in Kindergarten.
One day, in late fall, My classmates and I were put to the task of coloring in a line drawing of a turkey, using crayons. I remember feeling awed by this handsome bird with a spectacularly fanned tail. Although, wild turkey do inhabit the windy plains of Wyoming, I hadn’t seen one in real life. (Hunting the elusive jackalope was my primary preoccupation when out of doors). Despite a lack of formal familiarity, however, I distinctly remember having a very clear idea of how I wanted to color this picture.
I began with blacks and browns over which I gradually built up layers of color; adding reds, blues and yellows. I wanted to create a sheen that shimmered like a magical rainbow over the dark base as seemed befitting of this bird. Unfortunately, the school grade print paper canvas was not up to the task. As I pressed harder and harder onto the over saturated surface, crayon flakes, like so many unruly autumn leaves scattered helter-skelter. This chaos of pigment left smudges of multicolored stains around the margins blurring the image. The harder I worked, the worse things got. I had aimed for a particular perfection, but what I ended up with was a perfect mess: Hands, paper, desk. The stern look on my teachers face, gave a final confirmation that my efforts had gone awry.
I had wanted to display, through my artwork, a nobility and beauty that I innately felt was true about this bird, but what actually appeared on the paper was an amorphous scribble obscured by cloudy smudges.
I find in this long ago memory a kind of metaphor for how this remarkable feathered folk has been perceived or rather misperceived by the general American public for the past three quarters of a century or so.
Today, I am about to right that long ago mishap, however and paint for you a better picture.
I’m flipping the bird.
Don’t get your knickers in a twist, just hold on tight to those tail feathers.
It’s time to turn ignorant stereotypes topsy-turvy, and bring clarity to the somewhat murky reputation surrounding this truly indigenous American bird that we call turkey.
Which comes to mind when you think about the American Turkey? Do you picture a lean, bold colored bird with with a keen, alert look in its eye?
Or do you picture something more like the buxom snowy tom aimlessly meandering the white house lawn in late November, ready to be pardoned for the sole crime of being a favorite “guest” at the holiday table?
Do the words, bravery, or fidelity, agility and cunning come to mind?
To be certain, in the current zeitgeist to be called a turkey or to label something a turkey carries a distinctly negative connotation; meaning something along the line of second rate, stupid or cowardly.
But let’s back it up a bit and take a longer view.
The American Turkey (meleagris gallopavo) bears such an ironic misnomer, as it does not and never has existed in the country it is rumored to have been mistakenly named for. The heaviest member of the galliformes, this bird has been revered for centuries by the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. To this day, the turkey is honored among different tribes as a clan name.
Domestication is nothing new to this bird. Mesoamerican people began husbandry of this ground nesting avian around 300 b.c.e. The huexolotl, as the wild turkey was called among the Nahuatl speaking people became the totolin; a domesticated version that was kept not just for meat, but also for symbolic value and for the use of their beautiful feathers.
Even after the Europeans arrived, the turkey did not suffer in reputation for centuries. Rather it was acknowledged as a valuable resource and a beautiful and unique American bird.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the reputation of the turkey took at tail spin.
The dawn of commercial farming instigated processes that would leave negative impacts on both the consumed and the consumer for generations to come.
Let me insert another memory here:
During my early teen years, I lived in a rural area of Montana. Just outside of the city of Great Falls. A few of my neighbors raised turkeys for meat along with other animals on small five acre farms. I quickly discovered that this was not the same majestic bird I failed to represent with waxy pigments in my grade school days. Although domesticated turkey can and do present with the rich array of feathers that adorn their free range counterparts, the Broad Breasted White (meat) turkey, is ubiquitously, well, white. This has something to do with how the pin feathers show up or don’t show up on a dressed bird. These unlucky creatures have further been saddled with developing overlarge breast, hence, they no longer move with the grace and agility of their wild kin. This is a burden which makes them appear far more clumsy than agile. I remember my peers telling me that turkeys were so dumb that they would drown in rainstorms because they ran around with their mouths open. This it turns out,is a widely circulated myth. From that day on, however, my opinion of turkeys subtly changed.
It wasn’t until years later, after moving to Utah, that I encountered turkey face to face again, wandering the hills of the Wasatch Front.
Nature always seems to offer a generous amount of wisdom and information if one is receptive to it. While I did not have the great fortune of being born into a community that holds a long traditional understanding and mythology of this incredible feathered being, I have, through my observances of and interactions with wild turkey, gleaned something of a window into their true and remarkable character.
Turkey are loyal and intelligent.
I once observed two wild turkeys assist a third to find a way to transverse a tall wire fence that separated the single bird from it’s mates. Because the fence was on a fairly steep slope, this panicked bird had a difficult time getting enough footing so as to launch itself high enough to clear the barrier outright. Continuously calling to their distressed kin, the two other turkeys located and lodged themselves in a tall fir whose branches happened to overhang the fence. After locating his mates, the frightened bird was able to fly to the lowest of the branches and make his way to freedom and back to its two relieved companions.
Turkey are naturally agile, and they can fly.
Watching a flock of turkeys run ninja like through thick underbrush, a person quickly realizes these birds are anything but bumbling or clumsy. It is a scientific fact that wild turkey have very keen eyesight and can travel on the ground at speeds ranging from 18 to 30 mph. On the wing they can reach speeds up to 60 mph. Though their flight paths are only for about 100 yards or so, they easily can wing it up a tall tree to escape predators.
Turkey have a complex language.
Turkey vocalizations, vary greatly in tone and inflection. Sometimes they are so subtle that you hardly notice them. The “gobble gobble” that everyone associates with turkeys is something I hear less frequently in the wild than I do the soft staccato notes that almost sound like drops of water, or the purling chortle of a hen to her chicks. This is an awesome video I found on YouTube regarding how intricate and advanced turkey language is.
Turkey are a bird of many colors.
Wild turkeys can display albinism, which means they can be mostly white, but that is not common. These birds actually have up to five different morphs from smoke, to cinnamon, to blue… The radiant variety of iridescen\e is truly breathtaking in these bird folk which makes their feathers one of my favorites.
But what about that strange naked head you ask?
Well, it turns out, that similar to vultures, turkey have evolved with a natural cooling and heating regulator, and that is the (mostly) naked neck. Also, the color of a toms neck, including wattle and snood – that top dangely bit – changes colors from blue to purple to pink to red to a mottled variation based on their emotional state. Move over mood rings!
This last fact, incidentally, is something my daughter and I discovered after rescuing a domestic tom from *abandonment in the foothills along the Wasatch front.
This giant white behemoth was so terrified that it didn’t take much to get him to hop into the car and happily hunker down on my lap for the ride home. As the car warmed and he settled, his neck and wattle morphed from shy salmon to a pacified periwinkle. What a surprise! What further astonished us, apart from the size of his feet, (the impression he left in the snow was reminiscent of a tiny T-rex, which is to say huge) was the affection and curiosity he demonstrated as soon as he felt safe. This goes to show that even the domestic turkey defy the stereotypes.
Our rescue tom eventually found a wonderful home with a dear friend who made room in her hen house for this giant “chicken”. He lived quite happily ever after to the ripe old age of at least 3 or 4. Which is quite old for a turkey meant to be dinner by 6 months of age.
I am currently in the process of taking an online Tarology class from Jungian Dream Analysis Scholar, poet, student of the occult, current PHD candidate and self proclaimed shape-shifter (sometimes she’s a cat…how fantastic!), Elianne El-Amyouni.
She is known in her social media accounts as Twitchy Witch and I highly recommend her content to anyone who is interested in Jungian concepts, alchemy, religion, poetry, music and middle-eastern studies.
Wait…what does this have to do with turkeys? I can hear you thinking this question…yes I can!
As Elianne puts it. Everything is a symbol. All the things we work with and experience most closely become our most important, personal symbols. Elianne further goes on to elucidate; “…a symbol is a sort of gesture to what is wordless, what cannot be bound in total linguistic comprehension, but can be felt”.
The chance meeting with a certain creature can carry a message that is as individual and mutable as life itself. It is in the relationship that is developed towards an individual creature or collective, through observation and interaction, that the symbol becomes revealed.
Just as the indigenous peoples from ancient times understood, I am understanding more and more that it is through this meta-language, that deeper knowing is recognized and higher knowledge is understood.
Wild turkey tom displaying his fan.
Wlld Turkey of the Wasatch Front
When I encounter the wild American turkey, I am reminded that community fosters bravery and fidelity. I am awed by language that is beyond my understanding but that is also universal in it’s aspect of communicating care. I am made aware that true beauty is not always evident but is revealed; through sudden shafts of sunlight igniting a hidden jeweled iridescence – through the astonishment that ever enraptures with every unfolding of the turkeys majestic tail.
As a collective and as a symbol, I honor this bird each time we meet and I hope turkey will continue to show me further wisdom.
As ever, happy wandering!
*A bit about animal abandonment and dumping in wilderness spaces. If you see this happening in your area please report it. This act is not good for the domesticated creature who has not been raised with the skills to thrive in such an environment, nor is it good for the environment as it can introduce disease or threaten natural populations.
In indigenous teachings, plants, among others, are viewed as sovereign beings. The more-than-human world is composed of many people, and humans are only one small part of this democracy of species, in which the personhood of each is acknowledged. ~ Robin Kimmerer
One of the gifts I have received through wandering, is the realization this world is full of beings living interesting lives. I’m not talking about the antics of us hairless monkeys or homo sapiens, but those of the billion other existences that share this Mother world.
From the furred, to the feathered to the scaled and finned, to the exoskeleton baring, the mineral encased and the leaf and bark clad folk and more, this earth is full of beings concurrently having an experience that we call life.
Recently it seems, that science is finally catching up to age old indigenous traditions and wisdom regarding the other living beings who also dance upon this waltzing sphere. Slowly, the academic world is beginning to acknowledge and explore consciousness and sentience in non human lifeforms.
The two unexpected guests now perminate furry family. How cute are they?
Puff the magic Kitten
Obviously of superior intelligence!
Whick our super smart border collie/ausi mix.
I feel like most anyone who has grown up with the furred, scaled or feathered as companions in the home, might offer a big, “no duh” to those in the academia who sometimes seem surprised to discover such facts.
But less deference and defense is, in general, given regarding the people who I call, the plant folk. That’s right, I do consider the leafed, barked and flowered to be a people all in their own right.
If you want to argue with me about it, we could have fisticuffs at dawn if you like, but first, I suggest you do some research and maybe wandering of your own.
Yes, I do fully believe these organisms have a self/collective identity, and can and do experience in a way that is not too different from us. Recent works such as “Finding the Mother Tree” by Forest Ecologist Suzanne Simard delve deep into findings regarding tree communication revealing that these beings are in fact, social, cooperative creatures that lead communal lives.
The Happy Tree. This is a tree friend of mine up Khyve peak. I’ve spent many hours sitting by this beautiful soul who shares their joy with me often.
View from the False Mahogany at the Red Tail Rocks
False Mahogany Tree at the Red Tail Rocks. This tree came to me in a dream actually, and resides in a place that I consider very special to me.
Furthermore, several recent studies and articles that discuss how plants can “see”, identify colors, feel pain and react towards other beings. You can read a few of these here and here.
In the past few years there has been a growing movement called “grounding/earthing” involving placing bare feet on grass and other such activities. And of course I am a proponent of most ideas that promote a person connecting to the plant world and to nature! But sometimes these movements, sadly, are attached to a monetary driven train that require you to buy special tools, infringe on indigenous traditions in a way that is more appropriation than appreciation, or encourage you to participate in expensive workshops in order to “learn” how to connect with nature or the plant world.
There is nothing wrong with furthering your knowledge through reading literature or taking quality courses on responsible foraging, wild-crafting etc. There are. in fact, many good books and resources out there. Some of them are free through local libraries or even on aps such as audible. I am currently reading an excellent book called “The Secret Teaching of Plants” by Stephen Harrod Buhmer. Another book I would recommend is “Braiding Sweet Grass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
But reading about something will only take you so far. And lucky for everyone, it is not hard to find a way to interact with the flora beings.
The best part about nature, is that nature truly doesn’t require any of these extras.
That is because nature itself, is the teacher you are looking for! Don’t believe me? Go out at give nature a go.
Sienna Listening to the Grass Chorus
Me having fun with the grass folk! Yes plant folk have a sense of humor and of fun.
Utah Blue Elderberry. One of the many plant folk who offer good medicine.
Mullein Flower Stalk
Another plant folk that offers a lot of medicine wisdom.
Every year I grow a garden for herbs, flowers and vegetables. Yes, I recommend talking to your garden plant folk.
The only requirement is your presence and attention. Put away your phone, take out your earbuds and deeply listen. Sit with your back against a tree, lie in a summer meadow or find a boulder to perch upon to enjoy a chorus of grasses singing with the wind. You may begin with simple observation. But slowly, or maybe even quickly, I am certain you will begin to see that the flora around you is much more than scenery, or sustenance. That these beautiful beings move and create and speak with an intelligence that is as miraculous and spell binding as your own.
“That we take plant words in through our nose or our skin or our eyes or our tongue instead of our ears does not make their language less subtle, or sophisticated, or less filled with meaning. As the soul of a human being can never be understood from its chemistry or grammar, so cannot plant purpose, intelligence, or soul. Plants are much more than the sum of their parts. And they have been talking to us a long time.” ― Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicine to Life on Earth
I’d love to hear your experiences with the plant folk. Please leave a comment below to share. Also, subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already, and you would like to be notified each time I post.