THE WILD TURKEY COULD HAVE BEEN America’s representative animal. The wild–nearly mythological--tale of Turkey v. Bald Eagle originates in a disparity between “Founding Fathers” (or could we say, founding feathers) Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin as to what iconic image would constitute the National Seal. According to wildturkeyzone.com,
“On July 4 1776, the First Continental Congress selected a committee to design the Great Seal of the United States of America. It was the task of three founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson to select a political icon that best reflected the new country. ”
In democracy, majority consensus ‘wins’–and thus, the bald eagle was voted in as the quintessential American avian-hero. However, majority rule is not necessarily representative of better options or opinions (or even the ‘fairness’ democracy claims to pave the way for). Ben Franklin, a minority in the vote, stated in a letter to his daughter,
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…”
(Hmmm…voting in a representative for America who is of “bad moral Character”…sounds dreadfully recently familiar…)
John James Audubon observed:
“Male turkeys can turn their heads red, white and blue by controlling the flow of oxygen to their heads while strutting.” (wildturkeyzone.com)
(Now, I’ll say, that’s American!)
After several weird image proposals from the Founding Fathers (including a dramatic Exodus scene, the rattlesnake from the Gadsgen flag, and some sort of Americanized Adam and Eve), the final image for the current-day National Seal originated from a sketch done in 1782 by Charles Thomson (greatseal.com), (below left), which was refined into the current Seal (below right) (images Wikimedia Commons).
The wide-spread spread-eagle eagle is depicted clutching the opposing forces of peace (olive branch) in one foot and war (arrows) in the other. In his beak waves the paradoxical banner reading, “Out of Many, One“. And let us not forget the reverse design, which can be seen along with the National Seal on every dollar bill:
Centuries after the National Seal was adopted, the Lunar Module named Eagle, manned by two American astronauts, landed on the moon. On July 20, 1969, the voice of Neil Armstrong traveled through space, reverberating back to planet earth with the phrase “the Eagle has landed”. The winning Apollo 11 mission to the moon bore the insignia of a bald eagle landing on the moon bearing the olive branch of peace.
Though turkeys (or bald eagles) haven’t (yet) been to the moon, there was no shortage of wild turkeys throughout America during its colonization. Audubon wrote in 1840,
“At the time when I removed to Kentucky, rather more than a fourth of a century ago, Turkeys were so abundant that the price of one in the market was not equal to that of a common barn fowl now”
To this day, the turkey is the principle icon of the quintessential autumnal American holiday: Thanksgiving. Being an abundant source of food and already bearing spiritual and practical significance for the local Native Americans, the turkey was the natural center-stage hero in “the first Thanksgiving”, purported to have been in 1621, though the first recorded “official” Thanksgiving occurred in 1623 in Plymouth, Massachusetts (National Geographic Kids). The turkey appears as the center of a Ven diagram between Native Americans and Colonists, symbolizing common ground upon which the “natives” and “settlers” could peacefully feast together on. However harmonious the first Thanksgiving may have been, it was not, practically speaking, a lasting truce. “The peace between the Native Americans and settlers lasted for only a generation…the holiday is a reminder of betrayal and bloodshed” (National Geographic Kids). And however thankful the Colonists were of the abundance of the American turkey, like many species in the “civilized” (colonized) parts of the world, the wild turkey population declined drastically over the centuries. Both the turkey and the voted-in icon of the National Seal–the bald eagle–have, since the “founding” of America, endured episodes of endangered-ment (or, as in the case of the turkey, endangered-meat). Luckily, in time, human beings awakened to their errors and got their shit together enough to restore both birds to a non-endangered status. As change is the only constant, we must renew and revisit our thanksgiving continually, as nothing–from turkeys to bald eagles to peace between disparate groups to America as a whole–will last “forever”.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19).
But Jesus said,
“Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head” (Mark 4:26-29).
Working with what is already HERE–with the present, natural, and ultimately wild environmental conditions–is working with reality as it stands. All else is at best fantasy; at worst, psychosis. All else becomes Man v. Nature: the most vehement case of human ego delusion, a parasitic plant which grows in toxic soil, rooting down into the bowels of Hell.
In the case of growing a garden, whether it be for fruits or decoration (which it will ultimately be both), this means being aware, accepting, and working with the limitations of one’s immediate environment. As humans capable of ridiculous feats (like going to the moon), we can push the envelope of reality quite a bit: we can, effectively, grow a tropical oasis in a desert, if we set out to. (After all, tropical oases do exist on their own, so we are just copying nature anyway, right?). This construction of a new reality–a man-made oases–can be incredible, indeed, fantastical–but also downright impractical and unsustainable. Since in the case of agriculture the given environment may not on its own support itself, it is up to the individual (agricultural owner, landscaping company or corporation, in many cases) to sustain its existence. This is practical only so far humans are willing to cultivate it based on its predetermined needs (i.e. lawn grass needs constant watering a mowing). Lawn grass won’t thrive on its own in Santa Clarita, so it is normal–unquestionable and even justifiable–to see sprinklers going off at 3pm when driving along the 126 (right?). The lawn grass just has to be grown because the tract housing in the Santa Clarita valley depends upon it; homeowners must have their perfectly manicured lawn to contraction and cancel out the natural state of their environment (which is essentially desert). They simply must be able to buy their fantasy of living in a place where grass grows. (They don’t want the grass to be greener on the other side!) And growing grass for this purpose commercially makes sense because it makes money–end of story. The logic is: as long as it makes money, it makes sense! Unfortunately, Nature knows nothing of money nor cares for that type of paper greenery; and since Nature is ultimately “the Boss” and reality itself, money-making logic is rebellion against reality–a Luciferian psychosis.
Such is the ongoing logic of capitalism in America. And now the (not popularly elected!) 45th “boss” of the United States operates out of this logic. And as the curtains have been drawn back we are seeing a staged “problem” of “native” Americans (natural born citizens) opposed to supposed “illegal aliens”. The psychotic split of “us vs. them” is the ongoing drama, another version of the illusion of man vs. nature.
So what now constitutes a “native” American? Am I “native” to America because I was born in America? Am I “native” because I am 1/16 Chickasaw Native American (though the Chickasaws were not native to California where I live!). Am I “native” to Ojai because I grew up here and have spent most of my life here–though I wasn’t born here? Is the turkey a “native” bird to Ojai because it roams and propagates freely among the Ojai agricultural ecosystem? Is the turkey an animal of my “native” heritage because the Chickasaw made turkey feather capes? Overall what I am curious about is: in this exceptionally globalized village, what makes something “native”? What makes something “indigenous” (as the word of choice to describe A.E.I.O.U., which stands for Artists of Earth: Indigenous Ojai Underground?) And what makes these distinctions matter?
Above is a painting of my 1/2 Chickasaw great grandfather Benjamin Williford (on my mother’s mom’s side) done by my great grandmother Bee LaFevers (on my mother’s dad’s side). Both culturally and genetically, he was more classically “Native American” than I will ever be. But in today’s world, where there are dwindling numbers of half-blood (let alone full blood) “Native Americans”, what now constitutes a “Native American”? Point of arrival: what constitutes something as “native” must inevitably change and can no longer mean what it used to in simplistic terms.
In the interest of growing plants, perhaps what makes defining “native” vs. “non-native” important has to do with taking into account one’s immediate climate and ecosystem (which, as anyone even partially aware knows, is on the broadest scale possible undergoing rapid transformation, for better or worse). My backyard oasis won’t grow well without my persistent and informed care-taking, whereas my frontyard “native” landscaping is designed to essentially grow on its own, supported by the local climate, flora and fauna. Working with what is already present–in the form of nature (reality)–is what allows for infinite abundance and continual life and growth. Optimistically (rather than opportunistically), humans have the capacity to both work with this and create oases in deserts–and both can be “sustainable”, simply because of the truth that nothing lasts forever anyway.
Perhaps being or becoming “native” somewhere involves tuning in and connecting with the immediate environment. This is the wisdom of the classic Native Americans: working with the nature that surrounds. Everything you need is here. Turkeys abundant!
Alan Watts, that ingenious “bridge person” (as Terence McKenna would say) philosopher of East-meets-West, quotes in his book, The Book, an exceptionally alchemical passage from the Bible attributed to Jesus: “When you make the two the one, and when you make the inner and the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below…then shall you enter [the Kingdom]….Cleave [a piece] of wood, I am there; lift up the stone and you will find Me there” (Watts 19).
As a tenet of Hermeticism says:
As Above so Below
As the pledge of allegiance says:
One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all
In conclusion, I would like to present the Caduceus song “Turkeys” from our debut album Saturn Return, released May 2017. Technically speaking it is my first musical composition that fruited into a complete song, and was inspired by a Zen-like moment of awakening upon witnessing the subject of the song.
Listen to “Turkeys” online here.
All images except when noted by Celeste M. Evans
Audubon, John James. The Birds of America.
Evans Schultes, Richard and Hofman, Albert. Plants of the Gods. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Knowing Jesus. “21 Bible Verses about Kingdom of Heaven”. <https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Kingdom-Of-Heaven>
National Geographic Kids. “First Thanksgiving”. <http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/>
Watts, Alan. The Book.
Wikipedia. “Wild Turkey”. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkey>.
Wild Turkey Zone, The. “Early Colonial American History of the Wild Turkey”. <http://wildturkeyzone.com/wildturkey/speciesb.htm>