The Arctic Turkey
When I came to Alaska all those years ago, I had heard of this Arctic Turkey (turkus arcticus). I knew that my being part of the land meant that some day I would have to hunt this great creature. Even though I had never seen one, in my heart I knew I would never hurt one, but for me to be one of the Great Hunters, I would have to kill one. I knew that if the Gods felt me worthy I would be presented with one for Thanksgiving.
I knew this great bird would sacrifice itself to me as long as I respected the land.
Like many animals in the North, it can change its color in the winter to almost pure white, and then in the summer, it would change into a different color. It was just trying to hide fron the Great Hunter I was soon to become.
The first winter in Alaska, I was determined to show my Father, I was INDEED a Great Hunter. And so with not one hair on my nuts, I chose the shotgun, and I ventured into the woods. I had never actually seen one of these Arctic Turkeys, but I was sure I would recognize it when I seen it. Apparently I forgot it was pure white, but I was determined to prove to my Father, and to this new land, I was a Great Hunter, and so I ventured down the trail.
I walked for hours, alone, in this new wilderness that suddenly was now my home, soon I will have killed the Arctic Turkey, and my initiation would be complete. Soon I would be a Great Hunter.
Everything was white, quiet and still as I ventured through the woods. Suddenly I heard a movement, and I jumped, it was a Snowshoe Hare, they too turn white in the winter. It scared the shit out of me, and when my heart return to a normal state, I continued on. If I was going to be a Great Hunter, I could not return to the cabin without an Arctic Turkey in my pack.
SWOOSH!!! There it was. I seen the snow move and I remained still, I wasn't able to see anything, all was white. It wasn't lack of hunting experience, but fear that kept me motionless, I knew they could see ME, and so I waited until the snow settled. And then I seen it, a small black eye against the brilliant snow. And I waited silently, and I waited, and waited, when I realized I had to breath it darted off, it was the Arctic Fox, they also turn white in the winter. I was starting to realize that hunting this Arctic Turkey wasn't going to be so easy, especially now that I figured out almost all the animals were white, they could see me coming and would surely warn the others of my approach.
In order to be a Great Hunter, one must come home with an Arctic Turkey. I ventured on. I would not disappoint my Father, myself or this seemingly confusing land where the animals all turned white. I vowed not to return home until I had an Arctic Turkey in my pack.
It was becoming dark and I turned back to the trail I had come from, my head hanging low. Today wouldn't be the day I became a Great Hunter. In the far North, trying doesn't give you something to eat. It was going to be a long walk home. With frozen tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew I wasn't worthy, but I knew I must make it home, and so I ventured back up the trail. This Thanksgiving we wouldn't have an Arctic Turkey on the table. Although I was quite hungry, I was going to be happy for whatever Pop could come up with, beans, or whatever. How could I face him? He sent me out to become a Great Hunter, and now I was returning home with not even a good excuse.
After 5 hours or so walking in the woods, I had seen nothing to take home for the table. Maybe I wasn't worthy afterall, and I had pissed off the Gods that ruled the animals.
I turned the last corner of the trail, and I could smell the wood smoke. I was almost home, a broken defeated young man who may never be a Great Hunter.
And then I seen them. THERE THEY WERE!!!! About 30 of them, and they were indeed white, every last one of them. They were birds allright, not quite as big as I imagined, but surely these were the Arctic Turkeys!
They were beautiful. I had never seen anything like them in my life. I could tell they were a family, a covey they call it. They knew I was there, but they didn't fear me. And, I, of course, had no reason to fear them. But for me to be a Great Hunter, I would have to take their life. I slowly removed the shotgun from my shoulder and pointed it into the middle of this innocent group of beautiful white birds.
I thanked the Gods for sacrificing these beautiful Arctic Turkeys for me. I closed my eyes, and I pulled the trigger.
I, the Great Hunter, forgot to load the gun before I left the cabin.
When I made it home my Father was waiting with a great meal prepared, apparently while I was out trying to become a Great Hunter, he was busy making sure the table was full.
I was thankful that day, thankful that my Pops loved me, even though I didn't get the Arctic Turkey, thankful for a warm place to call home and thankful for something warm in my belly.
After we ate, my Pops explained to me that there is no such thing as an Arctic Turkey, what I seen was Willow Ptarmigan, our State Bird. I asked him why he thought I forgot to load the gun. He told me, "Becoming a Great Hunter is something you earn, not something you wish for."
I hope everyone remembers to be thankful for the small things, because the big shit doesn't really matter.
Its having someone to love and having a warm home to come back to that matters the most.
Fuck the turkey!
I case you haven't figured it out one is a picture of this beautiful bird in winter, and one in its summer plumage.