Friday, December 16, 2011

Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey by Joe Hutto

In November, Bonnie and I watched a marvelous episode of PBS Nature called My Life as a Turkey. It was not specifically intended to be a Thanksgiving Day program, but the timing may have been good anyway. It recounted a year that artist/naturalist Joe Hutto hatched and raised a clutch of wild turkeys at Wren Nest, his North Florida plantation turned nature preserve. In the program, Hutto showed how wild turkeys are quick and inquisitive, perfectly suited for life in the wild, far different from fat, immobile domestic birds raised for holiday dinners. As you might guess from the title, it was personal and somewhat humorous, though it had tragic moments.

Wanting to know more, I borrowed Hutto's book about his wild turkey project, Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey. In 1991, he imprinted two clutches of wild turkey poults on himself and then acted as parental bird until the turkeys were ready to live on their own. It is a great story full of drama, humor, and fascinating observations about nature. It also is a touching memoir about the attachments that naturalists can form with their animal friends. The Nature episode captured the tone of the book well until near the end. I think the book is ultimately more heart wrenching.

While the episode has the advantages of film, the book is filled with Hutto's attractive drawings of the turkeys and all the creatures that they encounter, including insects, deer, rodents, and snakes - lots of snakes. The book explains in more details the science behind his project while also being more philosophical. I am glad to have both viewed the film and read the book.

Hutto, Joe. Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season with the Wild Turkey. Lyons Press, 1995. 240p. ISBN 1558216944.

PBS Nature. My Life as a Turkey. You may watch the episode.

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