The turkeys had taken over.
Not the ones in Washington. Plenty of strutting from there so far. Little leadership. But this is not a political column.
This story is about sheltering in place.
The morning after the order went out for the San Francisco Bay Area, my slumber was ended by the gobbling of wild turkeys in front of my house.
A rafter of the large birds has called my neighborhood home for as long as I can remember. Community opposition scuttled a plan to relocate them to a rural environment a few years back. I don’t recall being advised of any meetings or votes on the proposal. I must have missed the memo.
The woman whose house they sometimes roost in front of wants them gone. The incessant noise is bad enough, but the large amount of waste they leave on the sidewalk is much worse.
On the other end of the neighborhood a woman is too afraid to shoo them away from her car. She too wants them gone.
After eating breakfast, I looked out a window facing the street. Two large males, colorful feathers spread out like peacocks, danced in semi-circles a few feet away from each other in the middle of the street, females and chicks nearby.
They are brazen even in normal times. Some peck the sides of cars. They don’t seem to notice when dogs or people walk past. Males often stand in front of oncoming cars, feathers spread, but I’ve never seen the entire group milling about in the street.
The scene reminded me of a video I saw online of wild boar roaming deserted Italian streets.
Pro tip: If you keep moving (slowly), they’ll get out of the way. They’re not that dumb. The turkeys, I mean. I don’t know about boar.
As long as we stay six feet from other people we are allowed to go for walks. On the first afternoon Klaus the dog and I took our customary route through the neighborhood, across a busy street and onto a wooded path that runs parallel to the BART light-rail lines. As soon as we hit the path I recognized my folly. Approximately six feet wide, it was only possible to stay that far from people by walking onto the vegetation lining the path. Each time I did I was greeted by quizzical looks from the passersby.
When we reached the crosswalk at the other end a young woman smiled as she jogged close to us. I reacted by smiling back and walking away as fast as possible.
Concerned that I was the only person who got this memo I decided on future walks we would keep to our neighborhood. There I can cross the street if somebody approaches from the other direction.
While bringing the trash and recycling bins in from the curb that evening I looked to the end of the road, where I get a good view of a freeway exit and a slice of the main road. Both usually resemble a parking lot at that hour, but that night cars zoomed by on the main road and the exit was clear.
On day two the turkeys woke me again. After eating breakfast and checking the first batch of work emails, mostly pitches for coronavirus-related news or questions about how to cover courts that have closed or severely limited operations, I looked out my window.
A woman rode by on her bike, her young daughter close behind on a smaller, bright-pink version. A car pulled up and stopped next to them. My view partially blocked by the camper in my driveway, I couldn’t tell if he’d stopped to talk, or if the turkeys blocked the road.
A large female turkey ran away from the car, in front of my window. Then a chick jumped a fence across the street and joined the retreat. Then another. And another. Then three large males. Twelve in total.
The car and bikers departed.
Soon the turkeys began to return. After congregating in the street, they headed for a little creek and bridge next to the freeway exit.
The show was over, for now.
On the walk that day I saw only two groups of people. A woman with two young boys smiled and waved when I crossed the street to avoid getting too close. A man played basketball on the street with his kids, the box from a brand-new hoop still sitting on the sidewalk. His son, probably around eight, made three shots in a row. The man lowered the hoop as far as he could for the boy’s much younger sister. She shot, but the ball moved only a foot or two in the air before descending, not close enough to threaten the basket.
While handling emails and calls later that afternoon in the office I could see a frisbee tossed intermittently in the air as my neighbor played catch with her large dog.
By the third day the turkeys had relocated, except for a lone female near the freeway.
The people were back, but from the little I saw they were keeping their distance. An older neighbor continued her battle against spring weeds. Two men stared at an electrical box outside their house. A young lady painted her fence. Two joggers pounded the pavement. The young boy sat in front of his hoop, petting a cat, feet on a skateboard.
For his part, Klaus seems to be taking it pretty well, though I don’t think he understands why Dad insists on avoiding the dogs out walking their humans.
Not surprisingly the news includes stories of people ignoring the shelter in place order, which will no doubt be magnified now that the entire state has been ordered to stay home. But at least from my vantage point most people appear to be doing their part to flatten the curve.
Please do the same, dear reader.
Also, wash your hands, and leave some toilet paper for others. We’re all in this together.