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A soothing way to gobble up stress

Jasper probably doesn’t realize it but he is a stress reducer — a mental health companion of sorts. Just talk to him. Perhaps sing a little “Oh, won’t you stay, just a little bit longer …,” and his feathers puff out and his tail feathers fan out. His wattle or snood hangs over his beak. The snood is part of the caruncle, that big brightly colored area around and under the turkey’s neck. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

I’m always looking for little ways to relieve stress and I stumbled onto something new. I met my friend’s turkey. A few minutes with the handsome bird changed my life briefly.

I don’t remember what breed of turkey Jasper happens to be, but he’s beautiful. I first met him while he was still in the confines of a large transport cage.

I wiggled my fingers at him, while my friend talked to him in her adoring way. She’s spoken highly of this bird ever since she first adopted him last year when he was just a baby.

I couldn’t get a good look at him the first time we met, but the following early afternoon he was inside the housing part of his new quarters. I was told I could go on into this new shelter, but that he was afraid and he hadn’t adjusted to his new surroundings.

When I opened the door he was toward the back of the structure. There was plenty of light. I stepped in and closed the door behind me. At first I just stood still but I talked to Jasper attempting to let him know how friendly I was.

As I talked to him we observed one another. I have no idea what he saw, but I saw an enormous multicolored brown bird with great big feet.

At first, his feathers were all down so I paid more attention to his colorful head and neck.

I haven’t met many turkeys; noted them in various barnyards over the years, but I had never stopped to get acquainted with one.

As Jasper and I eyed one another, he decided to step forward. I was surprised to see his feathers go up. He fluffed them up on his chest and then they spread out along his back. I was then treated to the sight of his back feathers fanning out. “My, what a handsome boy you are, Jasper,” I said.

He proved to be the quiet sort, which I kind of like in a guy.

He moved closer so I leaned down with my right hand out toward him.

He moved a step closer. So did I. “Can I pet your head?” I asked as I stretched out my index finger and touched the top of his blue and red rather lumpy head. “You liked this when we met last night,” I tried to remind him.

Indeed he still responded to my gentle touch along the top of his head and down the back of his neck.

He stepped closer.

I don’t know turkey terminology and at this stage in our new relationship it didn’t seem to matter.

As I touched the top of his head, I marveled at the various bumps or swellings that covered it and ran down his neck. Then I noticed the fine tuffs of black feathers that appeared in a pattern among them.

As Jasper turned again to look at me I was given a closer look of his long wattle and the puffy, air-filled sacks that adorn the front of his neck. I understand that Tom turkeys do this when they’re courting a hen, but they also do it when they’re excited.

Jasper was very patient with me, but then was especially attracted to my bright hot pink nails. From time to time he’d make a grab at one, probably thinking it was a bright berry.

I don’t know if turkeys see color, but I was most certainly interested in watching his coloring. By this point in our relationship, I noticed that some of the blue around his eyes had turned purple. Interesting.

As Jasper and I became better acquainted, I was completely oblivious to the rest of the world. I didn’t realize that until I told Jasper goodbye for the time being and went to open the door of his new shelter. The black pig that also lives in the yard had moved and decided that a spot right in front of the door was the perfect place to nap.

I tried to gently nudge the pig with the light door and she just ignored me. I tried to ask and then tell her to move and got nothing in return. I thumped her a little harder with the flimsy door. Nothing.

So turning back to the turkey I explained the situation, although I’m sure he was fully aware that a pig blocked my way out.

I have no idea where the need comes from, but the very few times I’ve found myself trapped someplace, I start to think about how I could live there.

Since Jasper had just moved in, the straw on the floor was still nice and fresh and smelled of straw not turkey droppings.

Okay, I thought, I can at least sit down, possibly put my back against something and be all right. As I looked beyond the turkey, I found two large pieces of thick fabric used in some type of gardening. If it got colder or dark and the pig hadn’t moved, I could cover up. I would still be cold, but I would be okay.

I petted Jasper a little more and then checked the door. Despite all my plans or maybe because of them, the pig had moved just enough to allow me to open the door. I was safe. I didn’t have to spend the night in what had become a turkey shed.

So how did this experience relieve stress?

I was totally focused on Jasper and my immediate surroundings. I knew the pig would eventually move. She had her own house to sleep in as the night approached. Some how things would work out.

As I closed the door, said goodbye to Jasper and told him I’d be back, I realized that I was relaxed. My neck didn’t hurt. My sore knees weren’t a problem. I wasn’t stewing about something my grandson was doing or about something else I needed to do.

As I walked up a path toward the backdoor to the house, I realized I was completely relaxed. I’d had an adventure of sorts and had thoroughly enjoyed myself. I felt good.

A few hours later, I went back to meet up with Jasper again. This time he was right inside the door. He ruffled out his feathers immediately and we picked up right where we’d left off.

This meeting was just as interesting as the first. Jasper added some deep chested thrumming noises to our conversation that I’d never heard before. When I left, I felt good. Happy. Relaxed. No stress.

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