Nat Bates is at it again. He wants to wipe out Point Richmond’s wild turkey flock and even go after the stragglers in North and East.
In a move that is sure to make feathers fly, Councilmember Nat Bates has placed an item on the April 6 City Council agenda to put an end to the burgeoning turkey population in Point Richmond. “I’ve lived in Richmond all my life,” said Bates, “and I never saw a turkey until two years ago unless it was my Thanksgiving dinner. Now they’re everywhere, and they just keep multiplying.”
“Now I hear a flock is starting up in the North and East. We have to nip this in the bud.”
“I propose we take them off the street and send them back to Orinda and Moraga where they belong,” explained Bates. “Why, I just got a call from an elderly lady yesterday complaining that they are tearing up her yard and leaving giant turkey excrements on her patio.”
“She called Richmond Police, and they told her to call Animal Control. They just blew her off. Nobody seems to be taking responsibility for this.”
Bates’ plan would direct the city manager to have Public Works Director Yader Bermudez use live traps to capture what turkeys he can, then obtain a depredation permit from California Fish and Game to shoot the wily ones that can’t be trapped. “He’ll have to use a crossbow,” said Bates. “You can’t discharge a firearm in the City limits unless your life is in danger. That would be hard case to make for a turkey, although I have seen a few really mean ones.”
Response from other Council members has been both quick and incisive but also mixed.
Maria Viramontes was first to rise to the defense of Richmond’s turkeys. “I want to give you a little history,” she said. “This is a teachable moment.”
Viramontes went on to explain that the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopa) is indigenous to the Americas and was a staple of the diet of her ancestors. She continued, “The American turkey was imported to Europe in the early part of the 16th century by the Spaniards via Turkey (the country.) It was confused in those early times with the Guinea fowl which also arrived via Turkey, and both birds were called turkeys in those days. When it was assigned its Latin name in the 18th century, the name turkey still stuck. Native Americans called it peru with no reference to the country of the same name.”
“This is about manifest destiny.” declared Viramontes. “The turkeys are just taking back their native country.”
“Wiping out Richmond’s turkeys,” continued Viramontes, “would be tantamount to avian cleansing, just three letters away from ethnic cleansing, and we all know what that means. We don’t want to go there.”
Mayor McLaughlin echoed sympathy for the turkeys. “They are simply culinary refugees,” she explained, “trying to find enough to eat while avoiding being eaten.” We value being a diverse community, and I think we can make a place for them in Richmond.” McLaughlin went on to say that she was concerned the term “turkey” was pejorative and might offend someone. “Can’t we come up with something a little more positive?” she asked.
Rogers, as usual, had a unique viewpoint and a well thought out plan. He pondered if totally removing the turkeys was desirable or even practical. “I think we can have it all.” he explained. “We’ll ship some of them back to Orinda, but we’ll retain a few in a really cool little ‘turkey trottoria’ down by Mechanics Bank so people can still see what they look like. It will be kind of like the Little Farm in Tilden Park. We’ll sell turkey treats to parents so kids can feed them, and we’ll use the profits for my favorite projects, like Greenprint.”
“I really like that,” responded Ludmyrna.” My little boys will soon be at the age where they could enjoy feeding turkeys, and I don’t know why I should have to drive all the way to Berkeley to do it. These turkeys were born and raised in Richmond, and at least some of them deserve to stay.”
Ritterman, always the practical one, expounded, “I’m a heart doctor, and I can tell you that nothing is better for your heart than wild turkey breast. A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine confirms that it’s fat free and jammed with antioxidants. If we could get Richmonders to eat these birds, it would add years to their lives. The downside is it would probably put me out of business.”
There are at least two theories about how and why the turkey flock, which is now pegged at 30 something, got to Point Richmond. One theory is that they followed Bill Lindsay here from either Walnut Creek or Orinda, both longtime habitats of the noisy birds. “We didn’t have this problem when city managers were homeboys like Isiah Turner,” complained Bates. “You go outside for a city manager, and this is the kind of thing that follows.”
Another, more plausible, theory comes from Margaret Morkowsky, Point Richmond popular culture expert. “They heard about the Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot (see A Point Richmond Thanksgiving on KGO, November 28, 2008). “Turkeys are smarter than they look,” said Morkowski. “They knew the only turkey shooting going on in Point Richmond was with a shot glass of Wild Turkey. They feel safe here.”
City Attorney Randy Riddle warned Councilmembers Butt, Ritterman and Bates to check with their personal attorneys before voting on the measure. “All three of you live in the Point Richmond area,” he lectured. “This could be a conflict of interest. You could go to jail.”
In a remark that he will surely expand on during Open Forum, Corky Booze opined that the only turkeys he knew about were on the City Council. Nat’s right.” chortled Corky, “It’s time for all those turkeys to go.”
Another frequenter of Open Forum, Jerome (“the Poet”) Smith, called me to provide a preview of the poem of Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah he had chosen for the occasion:
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas
Cos' turkeys just wanna hav fun
Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked
An every turkey has a Mum.
Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas,
Don't eat it, keep it alive,
It could be yu mate, an not on your plate
Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side.
I got lots of friends who are turkeys
An all of dem fear christmas time,
Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it
An humans are out of dere mind,
Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys
Dey all hav a right to a life,
Not to be caged up an genetically made up
By any farmer...
Mike Ali (“Raccoon Eyes”) Kenney also expressed an interest in making a statement at Open Forum. “The wild turkey was important to my people,” explained Raccoon Eyes. “The Cherokee had flocks of domesticated wild turkeys before the white man set foot in America, and we used the feathers for ceremonial decorations. Lest it be forgotten, I’m sure you have noticed that I maintain that tradition by wearing wild turkey feathers to City Council meetings. Like the Native Americans, the wild turkey has been marginalized and driven from its native habitat. But now, like a prophesy, it is taking that land back. It shall be the same for my people. That explains why my brothers, the Guidivilles, are coming to Point Molate, and nothing can stop them.”
With my special interest in history, I recalled a certain fondness by founding father Benjamin Franklin for the wild turkey. In fact, Franklin favored the wild turkey as the National Bird over the bald eagle:
...the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.
Chevron and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce called a hasty meeting to strategize where they should position themselves. Refinery Manager Mike Coyle, who has watched turkeys tear up his prize Orinda lawn for years, had little sympathy. However, Chamber leaders Judy Morgan, Josh Genser and Tom Waller countered that they had just done some polling and found a surprising level of sympathy in the community for the growing turkey population. “If we can just find some way to tie this to jobs,” whined Waller, “it could mean victory in November.”
“Unfortunately, the mayor likes those turkeys, too,” complained Genser. If we can move her closer to Ritterman’s position, I think we can take back the Mayor’s Office. “I’ll get a letter out to our membership right away” chimed in Morgan. “But what should it say?”
As for me, all I have to say is “gobble-gobble.”
Tom Butt is a member of the Richmond City Council. No kidding.