Thanksgiving is approaching, and my title gives the misleading impression that this post will have to do with the gratitude you might offer up to whomever you believe deserves it. For many of you, November may be the month during which most of your consideration of turkeys takes place. For others, it also the time in which the majority of your writing happens (if you are participating successfully in NaNoWriMo).
At our house, however, we have a flock (pack? gaggle?) of wild turkeys living in our yard. These enormous, reptilian creatures gather in our driveway or behind our house to preen and prance. The males puff up their pretty feathers and fan out their tails. They gobble. Really. They say, “Gobblegobblegobblegobble.” But most wondrously of all, they fly. Yes, these are muscly, tough birds who would have no business on your table. At dusk, they stand together some yards from their favorite tall pine trees, and one at a time, they make a sort of running lift off and soar up to a high branch. Soar may be the wrong word. Ricochet is wrong in a different way (they don’t bounce off and come back), but better.
I turn to Angie. “What verb would you use to describe the turkeys flying to the trees?”
The sound of her mouse clicking and the hum of her computer fill a moment before she says, “Struggling.”
Let’s say that a haiku is a humming bird, fast, small, as much suggested as seen. A short story is a sparrow or perhaps a blue jay, depending on its attitude, but at any rate, a bird that can take off, fly and land with ease–compactly built for just this one activity.
A novel is a wild turkey.
It has wings; yes it does. And those wings can, in fact, carry the weight of its enormous body, its round cargo. By pressing itself as flat as it can and reaching with its neck toward the height of its goal, by believing in its power and by collecting its mates around it for encouragement, the turkey can attain a branch way up above the roof of our house.
In the morning, at dawn, the turkeys come back down. And because they are privileged to sleep a little bit later than we do, our early morning ritual is to stand at the living room window and watch them. There are maybe a dozen up in a couple of giant trees, and while they obviously know who is going to go when, we do not. We chat and make animal noises (Angie and I tending toward the first and the boys tending toward the second) until one suddenly pitches itself earthward. You hardly believe it will make it down without crashing. The bird itself seems no more certain. The excitement in all of us–observers and flier alike–is palpable. Again the bird tries to flatten itself into something sleek, something that might become airboren. Always, the awkward heft of the creature contradicts this effort. And yet, each time, it skids into the fallen eucalyptus bark and pine needles and restores itself to its round, reptilian dignity.
Yes, a turkey is a novel; a novel is a turkey. There is a wonder in seeing a tiny bird dart here and there, in seeing a hawk soar in the break in our trees through which we can see the bay and the hills of Marin. But none of these contain the humor, the humanity, if you will, the epic thrill–will she? won’t she?–of the turkey’s journey between earth and tree.