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Wild Turkeys Take Cambridge!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I love love love going to Cambridge and Boston. It feels a bit like going home. I’m too deeply rooted in southeast Ohio to feel completely at home anywhere else. But it’s as close as a city is going to get. Cambridge has a part of my heart, because there’s so much beauty packed into its narrow streets; because it is stuffed with highly evolved, sentient people who appreciate its architecture and plant to enhance. Remarkable, really, to see the roses and daylilies spilling out onto the streets in an overabundance of beauty; to stumble on a moonlight garden, all white roses, hostas and hydrangeas, or a secret grove of river birches with a stone path winding through them. To see people bending over backward to save this fair city’s immense copper beeches, thankfully far outnumbering the ninnies who would cut them down. Oh, there are ninnies, and it doesn’t take many to ruin a place, but Cambridge somehow holds most of them at bay. As I watch the giant sentinel trees being cut down all along my county road, I think some of them have come to live in Ohio. Grumble.

Being an observer of changes both small and immense, I like pointing out the things that are different now than they were when I last lived in Cambridge in 1981.

photo by Kris Hodgkins Macomber

For one thing, there are a LOT more places to sit now. It’s a much kinder, homier place. Harvard Yard blossoms with multicolored chairs each May, and people actually use them, because they can move them around and form fluid groups for conversation and study. I find myself, with delight, arranging to meet friends "in the chairs in front of Weld," whereas before I'd have had to sit on the dorm steps. There's something so lovely about walking through the Yard and seeing healthy, thriving turf and groups of people visiting, studying, texting, snoozing and even reading analog books in these colorful Luxembourg chairs. Just beautiful. It's like a happening, every day.

Photo by Kris Hodgkins Macomber

Photo by Kris Hodgkins Macomber

Radcliffe Quad, where I lived, has white wooden Adirondack chairs sprinkled around in shady spots! And Adams House courtyard now has teak benches, chairs and a rope hammock, where I gladly melted of a lazy Sunday morning and gazed up at a flawless Massachusetts summer sky.

So humane, so welcoming, so homey. The man behind it? Michael R. Van Valkenburgh, Graduate School of Design professor. Read the wonderful story here.  Harvard, I salute you for opening your arms to students, visitors, and local folk alike. Probably the cheapest yet most profound change in use that could have been effected in this private space turned public.

And speaking of changes...

It was probably four years ago on a brink-of-spring night when I looked up into a tree next to the Harvard U. Science Center and saw what looked like a bag of laundry in a pin oak, backlit by the glowing urban sky. Is that a…turkey??? And it was a wild turkey, roosting alone in a concrete courtyard. I would see her walking alone on the sidewalks on that trip. I knew there were turkeys in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, but here in midtown Cambridge, she looked very much out of place.

Hodge, John and I saw the Harvard Turkey, or one of them, while enjoying a Saturday evening lime rickey and a burger at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, a Harvard institution that neither takes credit cards nor has a bathroom, and doesn’t need either to be slammed all the time. Burgers are generous and delicious, onion rings and sweet potato fries are light, tasty and authentic, and I could drink their raspberry lime rickeys all day long. And it was while filling our empty ten-mile hike bellies that we spotted the Harvard Turkey. She came stepping across Mass Ave, allowing a sedan to come to a full stop for her before she finished her crossing. She walked like a queen, like she knew she was worth stopping for. And who would want to argue with a 16-pound turkey? A hard bump she would make in your grille.

Our Mr. Bartley's waitress was chagrined when we told her the Harvard Turkey had just graced us with a sighting. This gal was born here; she lives and works here and she’s never seen the famous Harvard turkey. Huh. I see turkeys every time I come to Cambridge. Maybe it’s because I’ve been looking for them ever since that wintry night when I saw the duffel bag sleeping in a pin oak.

Still, I wonder how they manage. I wonder what they eat. The answer is probably everything, from sweet potato fries to crickets to crabapples to flower buds to acorns. Ah, acorns—the staff of a turkey’s life. It seems like a meager existence, but apparently is not. I marvel that a creature of such majesty and presence, not to mention mass, can make its way in such an artificial environment. The formidable brain of a wild turkey, applied to the conundrum of living in gardens, cemeteries, sidewalks and streets, would be more than adequate to the challenge.

I have live, hot off my iPhone video evidence that this odd experiment in colonizing the city is a success. Not only are wild turkeys making their way; they’re reproducing. Leaving Hodge’s Den of Sleep at 7 AM, I walked barely two blocks and lucked into the ultimate Cambridge wild turkey encounter.

 I’m pretty proud of this bit of hand-held wildlife cinematography. Seeing the hen walking slowly down a bricked garden path, I guessed from her watchful demeanor and rapidly turning head that she might have poults trailing behind.  I led them a bit, following the trajectory of the hen, and hunkered down to make this video about where I figured the chicks would be crossing the sidewalk. Bingo!

Enjoy the June parade!  


Are they hard on the local foliage? They have peacocks roaming wild at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden and certain plants had to be fenced to keep them from peacock predation.

Posted by Anonymous June 28, 2016 at 12:20 PM

Love this! Also - I would SO like a Lime Rickey right about now... Best. Drink. Ever.

Too coooool!

What?! Turkeys in Cambridge! I'm so jealous. Was just in Boston last month, downtown and wandered through the Public Gardens. Of course lots of ducks and a sitting swan, but turkeys? Never!

Only saw them once here along Ohio R. Elusive birds- the poults!

When we visited the Wellesley College greenhouses in May we saw wild turkeys on the campus. They must like the Boston suburbs!

Posted by D. Wooster June 30, 2016 at 2:27 PM
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