Op-ed: Turkeys crossing Route 295 show the audacity of achieving the impossible

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In this story, Burrillville Land Trust president, Paul A. Roselli reflects on the impossible when a group of turkeys attempt to cross a busy highway. The land trust is trying to save Sweet’s Hill, which Roselli reflects may seem an impossible task. But in a very real way. the chance to save Sweet’s Hill, and in the story here, Roselli reminds us of the old adage, impossible is only an opinion, not a fact.

A busy highway seemed to be an over-the-top obstacle to this group of turkeys trying to get to the other side; 11 of them in all. Their leader, seeming to have done this before, waited, starring down the wizzing autos going 60, 70 miles-per-hour – far too fast for any good to come out of this endeavor, I thought. But there they stood, 11 of them, all banking on what the first in line would do next and watching patiently, judging as if life depended on the next move. And in this case, it did.

I was on my way to a dinner date. Driving along Route 295, I was absorbed in the strict attention necessary for driving, every once in a while thinking about the speed of things and all that had to be accomplished over the next few weeks. I saw the turkeys ahead, nervously moving back and forth, their leader inching ever so close from the narrows of the breakdown lane onto oncoming traffic. I knew what the leader wanted to do: cross three lanes of traffic then go to the medium strip and then cross three more lanes to get to the other side, an impossible situation for anyone. It was especially impossible for this group of birds; this rafter of turkeys. Impossible, I said.

The leader must have seen my hesitation at first and then saw that I slowed down… a signal perhaps. Others around me must have seen this hesitation as well. The turkeys noticed and then others saw what I saw, what seemed to be all at the same time. Brake lights on, first me, then the cars to the left and behind me too, slowed down. We all came to a stop. Not a rolling stop; I mean a stop. I’ve seen turkeys cross the road before. Any movement – any at all – and the turkeys turn around and go back. Could it be a learned behavior from watching others? An experience shared from a mishap that ended in disaster? I don’t know. But I have seen this before.

One after another, cars behind me and to my left came to a stop. Creating our own flock, our own caravan of cars paused in unison. Waiting for their movement – waiting for the turkeys to make the next move. There was no horn blaring. No signs of road rage with yelling and screaming. No discontent. For that moment, time and space ceased from our consciousness. The speed of things stopped. We, and here I do mean we, marveled at what the leader did next. She took the first step onto the highway seeing the oncoming vehicles coming no more. Then one after the other, all eleven of them paraded in front of us getting to the other side, in a hurry for sure, but getting there safely. I watched the first in line as she maneuvered well off the road checking her flock metaphorically, I imagined, releasing a sigh of relief, it seemed that she made it again across this busiest of highways. Turning to each of them with a look of confidence and moving quickly to the next hurdle – three more lanes and then to wooded areas safe and free from these quickest of man made machines. 

As soon as the final one crossed the road, we, too, breathe a sigh of relief. No one was hurt. No one in those cars thought themselves more important than this flock of turkeys. No one’s schedule in that group of cars and trucks was so critical that we could not wait the few seconds it took in safely allowing this group of turkeys to cross the highway. No one forced us to stop. But we did. Our busy existence was still intact. I smiled at that moment as I expected others did the same. I knew instinctively, that they would safely make it to the other side of the road. Their leader would make sure of it. They had to or this story would not have a happy ending.

As we moved again, I felt that the event did represent a shared experience for those in attendance that day. Few of us, total strangers in this case, get to share anything related to the natural world. We are too busy to do something out of the ordinary. Traveling at 60 or 70 miles-per-hour in a world where speed is often the norm and often is demanded, it’s nearly impossible to slow down, stop, notice and take part. But in this moment, we did share something. We shared a view of nature trying to cope with the likes of us, with our speedy selves, and we in turn appreciated their audacity. 

Paul Roselli is the president of the Burrillville Land Trust.

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