Sunday, September 5, 2010

Turkeys and Eagles

Yesterday I was at the annual Labor Day Weekend gathering at my wife's cousin Dean's rural home. In addition to an extensive vegetable garden, Dean and Sarah have turkeys. What I found interesting was that there were two bald eagles flying in circles over the trees on the other side of the garden and I couldn't help but think of Ben Franklin who thought the turkey, rather than the bald eagle, should be our national symbol.

One of my most memorable childhood memories is the train ride I took across the country when I was eight years old with my grandparents. I didn't know then how much of a kick grandparents get from being with their grandchildren. We were visiting my cousins (their daughter's family) near Reno, Nevada. A highlight of the trip was a visit to some property my Uncle Dale and Aunt Ellen were considering to purchase in eastern California. On that visit we went to a turkey farm.

As I watched the turkeys yesterday, they seemed like the silliest creatures, not only in their colorfully odd features but also strange in their behavior, including the distinctive warble/gobble they emit from time to time, especially when startled. Dean's turkeys brought back memories.

Ben Franklin, on the other hand, must have seen a measure of nobility in these funny birds. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin shows where he was coming from when he disparaged the eagle. In my opinion, however, the wise old man was just little off in this one.

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country....

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

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