Monday, February 11, 2013

R.I.P. Turkey

It wasn’t Blackhawk Down, it was Wild Turkey Down. I’m not talking about drinking bourbon whiskey, I’m referring to a crash I witnessed while traveling along I-79 recently.

I’ve enjoyed the resurgence of wild turkeys in West Virginia. When I was growing up, you never saw any, but their numbers have greatly improved over recent decades. Besides seeing them at home, I often see them (always in groups) on the hillsides, pastures, or near the roadway when traveling. They spend most of their lives on the ground, but are capable of flying. However, with their weight, they aren’t the greatest flyers, and often climb hills to gain elevation before gliding downwards to their destination. This often happens when they are attempting to cross busy highways. Unfortunately, these small-brained birds sometimes miscalculate and fly too low, resulting in collisions with cars. My aunt had one crash into her windshield once—needless to say, it is not a good thing to have happen.

What I saw the other day was a dramatic moment. It started when I noticed a turkey flying from the hillside above the interstate. These big birds are interesting to watch fly, with the long necks and small heads stretched out ahead of their big bodies. I’m guessing this turkey had crossed here before, and had always made it across without getting hit by any cars.

Unfortunately, there weren’t just cars hurtling down the highway that day—there was also a northbound tractor-trailer. As I watched from the southbound lane, the turkey collided with the top right corner of that tall trailer, causing an explosion of feathers. The bird “augured in” to the grass in the median, following that corkscrew path just like a World War I biplane shot down by the Red Baron. As the carcass lay on the ground, the feathers that were knocked off fell a bit more slowly and rained all around it. That was my last view as I passed the scene (no, I didn’t pull over to retrieve the fresh roadkill). R.I.P. Tom Turkey!

I imagine that Mr. Turkey regretted his slight miscalculation as the truck delivered its fatal blow. I hope I never have that moment of regret prior to my death. Now that some restaurants are categorizing me as a senior citizen, I’m realizing I may have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me.

As I look back, there were three times when I thought I might be facing my own demise. Back in the ‘90s I had a bout with meningitis, and wasn’t sure what was happening to me, but knew it wasn’t like any sickness I had ever faced before. Then about a decade ago there was that motorcycle accident near Pringle Tree Road north of Buckhannon. The third one was about five years ago in one of the fierce rapids on the Upper Gauley River when nearly all of us were dumped out of our raft. Each time I realized there was a chance I might have “bought the farm,” but luckily it wasn’t my time to go. I trust there isn’t any significance to the decreasing intervals (roughly 20, 10, and then 5 years ago) between these brushes with death—hopefully my time isn’t up anytime soon!

Indeed, rest in peace, Tom Turkey—and long live me!

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