As a reporter I have been close to the now somewhat famous cop turkey-shoot that occurred on Old Ridge Road in Chilmark last Father’s Day.
Last week, though, I got too close.
I drove up-Island one chilly afternoon looking for Jonathan Haar, the Chilmark resident who was arrested following the shooting. He had taken a swing at one of the police officers at the scene, and later explained he knew the turkey personally.
I wanted to get his thoughts on the court decision which saw most of his charges dropped. It seemed like quite a result. Decking a cop over anything, let alone poultry, tends to be looked on unfavorably by the powers that be.
Apparently this was no ordinary turkey. According to neighbors, it was aggressive and erratic, the hair-trigger leader of an errant flock that had prowled the neighborhood.
Still, did it take five bullets from a 20-caliber Glock semi-automatic weapon to stop what is essentially an unprocessed Butterball, some asked at the time? Would not an old lady and a broom suffice?
Personally, I confess to having the occasional snigger at the stories. Four women refused to leave the house without dogs and sticks. One man carried around a bat, and said if he possessed a gun he would have packed that, too. The term attack turkey had been used, as if it were a razor-toothed Doberman. It seemed ridiculous.
Anyway, I parked at the top of the hill on Old Ridge Road and walked down to the foot of the Haar’s driveway where a sign warned: “Turkeys, Slow” in hand-painted red print. It looked too good to be true — like some kids had put it there as a joke.
Starting up the driveway I saw no sign of human life but spotted, under a tree on a grass verge about hundred yards up, a flock of around 15 turkeys.
They spotted me at the same time, and in unison they telescoped their necks and wobbled to their feet. Then they waddled off the verge and started down the winding gravel drive.
Wow, I thought, real live turkeys. My experience had been limited to occasional high-speed glimpses from the road. Instinctively I stopped walking and stood to look at them.
The words of nearby resident Roger Greeley came to me as I watched. “They’re dumb as rocks,” he had said. They did look rather stupid, with those beady eyes on the sides of their heads and that flap of skin wobbling under their chins.
Trying something out, I ran toward them waving my arms.
In her report to the police, witness Alissa Keenan recalled running toward Tom the turkey shouting and flapping, a technique she said often worked on seagulls. Now I was doing it myself.
It was no use, though — in fact some of turkeys appeared to take this as a signal to quicken their step.
“They’re not scared,” Roger Greeley had said, his words echoing again.
I could see the eyes more clearly now, particularly of one male turkey who was leading the flock. Not so much vacuous, his gaze was plain inscrutable . . . Why exactly were they all coming toward me? What was the plan here? Are these guard turkeys, I asked myself?
Brian Mackey, another neighbor, had evoked a scene from the movie Jurassic Park when he spoke of running to his car, bashing a turkey repeatedly with his door and speeding off, only to see seconds later the bird running toward him in his rearview mirror, presumably accompanied by the written warning: Objects may be closer than they appear.
Brian’s story was funny, but then again these turkeys were bigger than I expected. I thought they were roughly like chickens. These were decent size, like four or five Chihuahuas stacked on top of each other (disclosure: I grew up in a city and have very little direct experience with nature).
The 15 stares now appeared to hold calm malevolence. And from their gobble-gobbles it sounded as if they were forming a plan.
Laughing awkwardly to myself, I began to back away, and soon I was jogging down the drive, hearing their feet behind me on the gravel.
After a brisk twenty yards, I turned my head to see how far away they were and felt a rush of adrenalin. They were speeding up.
Careening around the opening of the driveway, I sprinted up the hill toward my car, my breath billowing out in the frosty air.
I was now a good stretch up the road and stopped to take stock. No sign of the flock. I had outrun them.
Gathering my wits, I thought to take a picture of the turkeys on my cell phone. Fiddling with it, I walked a few paces back down the hill then stopped when I saw the memory was full.
Waiting for the memory to clear, my gaze wandered up to the scrub brush . . .
Turkey! The main tom had found a shortcut through the trees and was staring at me, no more than 10 feet away. The rest of the flock was a short distance behind him. I lunged for my car.
Another Jurassic Park scene flashed through my mind — the one where an overweight man scoffs at a miniature, harmless-looking dinosaur and saunters away only for it to appear suddenly right beside him looking at him head cocked to the side. Moments later his face is covered in acid and he is being greedily devoured.
Jumping in, I threw the car into reverse as the first few congregated on the road.
I’m alone up here, I thought. Me and the turkeys. Would anyone hear my cries? Their murderous gobbling as they pecked and spurred at my eyes?
I decided not to wait around to find out. I revved the motor, silently wishing the inhabitants of Old Ridge Road and Shadbush Hollow good luck, and I got out of there.