Friday, April 23, 2010

Today, a kind of sadness

I took this picture of my little turkey on Monday afternoon. This morning I buried him beneath a flowering wild plum.

When I heard last week that three poults were available for me to pick up, I was thrilled. I had read that as babies, turkeys are harder to keep going. With three poults, they would have company even if I lost one. I wonder if maybe through this first act - preparing myself for a fatality - I had already failed him.

On Tuesday all of them seemed bright and active, but I noticed that my lavender cross was making a clicking noise when he breathed. I've never raised turkeys before, so I believed that because he seemed healthy in all other respects, the clicking was nothing to worry about.

Yesterday morning, the lavender was lying at the edge of the brooder. He was extremely lethargic and couldn't stand on his own. He was panting and still clicking with every breath, and after a few protesting peeps when I picked him up, his head lolled back and he closed his eyes. I couldn't get him to eat. I dipped his beak in water but he wouldn't drink. I started to cry because I knew he was dying, and I was already running late for work. I didn't want to leave him alone.

He was still alive when I came home that evening, and while he was still clicking when he breathed, he was no longer panting. Mom dug up an eyedropper for me and I mixed a little honey with some water and starting feeding him a few drops every hour. He felt cold so I tucked him under my shirt, holding him against the skin on my chest.

He was just getting his wing feathers in - beautiful lavender feathers. I wanted to see what he'd grow up to be - to know if he was even a he. I told him to live because there was a big, green world outside that had all sorts of treasures waiting for him - new grass, insects, sunshine. I tried to send him positive energy, and I cried.

I wanted him to live, but selfishly, I also wanted him to die. I wanted him to do something, because I was drained and exhausted with waiting. Every so often the clicking noise would stop, and I would hold my breath, listening, but he was still breathing quietly. I tried to feed him a little egg yolk, but he wouldn't take it. He kept his long pink toes curled together.

Poor Aaron didn't know what to do. He came in a couple of times and kissed me, but he mostly tried to stay out of the way. He doesn't know it, but he did everything right. Without me asking, he brought my tomato plants in for the night and made up our bed.

I settled the poult into a box lined with a wool sweater, with a small dish of water and a little food. I climbed into bed and Aaron put his arms around me and said, "I'm here." I think at that moment, it was the most comforting thing he could have said.

I wanted to believe in a miracle: that when I woke up, he'd be wobbling around his little box, drinking and picking at his food. But when I looked into the brooder, he was dead. The edge of the wool sweater was pulled over his body like a blanket, and he was still warm and soft underneath the brooder light. I couldn't move him - it was Mom who finally lifted the box out of the brooder, out of the heat.

I went back to bed for a little bit. I thought, what if I hadn't put them on shavings right away - would he still be alive? Did he eat them? What if I had changed the water more frequently? Did it make him sick? And, what would he have grown up to be, with those beautiful lavender feathers?

I wrapped him in a paper towel and picked a small cluster of flowers from my mom's bleeding heart bush. I walked out to the hill where my horse is buried, my dog, my day-old chick. The apple tree and plum bushes were blooming. I dug him a little grave and lay him in it with his head facing east. I put the flowers on top of him, and I sat on my heels and cried. I told him how sad I was that he was only a baby, and how sorry I was that part of me had wanted him to die even as I was willing him to live. That wasn't really what I was asking for. I just wanted an end to the sadness.

When my Sussex chick died, I couldn't see the place in the brooder where he was missing. There were so many other warm little bodies, so many clamoring for my attention. But when I look in there now, when I look at my other turkeys, I see where he should be. And the fact that he isn't there breaks my heart.

1 comment:

Ashley Parker, 2008 Class Reporter said...

Oh Katie, this is so beautiful, I am in tears. I imagine that was the most loved turkey that ever lived, even for his short time on this earth.