Turkeys in the Holy Land


Our family had an unconventional Thanksgiving this year. We hauled our travel trailer to southern Utah in search of longer days and warmer weather. The day before Thanksgiving we went to Zion National Park. We ate a picnic lunch along the Virgin River, then climbed to Angel’s Landing. The sun set before we got back to the valley floor and dusk found us resting at The Grotto.

In the twilight, a flock of turkeys scurried around us. They dashed between the picnic tables, around the parking lot, along the paths, between parked cars. They were everywhere — and in a hurry.

I tried to photograph them but all my pictures came out blurry. Low light, fast birds. At first I was disappointed, but then I thought about Alfred Stieglitz’s idea behind his series of cloud photographs, Equivalents. Stieglitz’s goal in these images was “to record something so completely, that all who see [the picture of it] will relive an equivalent of what has been expressed.” In his case, he introduced the world to the idea of abstract photography. Heady stuff. In my case, I introduced the world to what it’s like being around edgy turkeys at this particular moment. My equivalents, such as they are.

After a half hour of dashing around, the agitated birds began to launch themselves in long low trajectories across the road into the towering cottonwood trees along the river. Bulky forms flapped wildly in the air in front of startled motorhome drivers. Traffic backed up as Japanese tourists tried to capture the turkeys’ awkward ascensions on their camcorders.

One after another, the birds made their way into the lowest branches of the trees and clambered, hopped, climbed, and flapped toward the tops. As darkness settled, the flock roosted above the valley floor — safe in Zion.