Backyard Naturalist: Creativity Is Essential in Disposing of Turkey

Editor’s Note: Outdoors Writer Russ Mohney died Aug. 31. The loss is staggering. His writing and insight into the outdoors of Southwest Washington was unmatched. We will be publishing his popular column each week in the coming months from his abundant body of work created throughout the past decade for The Chronicle. This column was originally published Nov. 26, 2005.

It is once again time to chat about the aftermath of Thanksgiving and the protein boost the holiday annually provides for local birds — with the notable and conspicuous exception of several thousand farmstead turkeys. It is possible, you see, to use some of your leftover Thanksgiving bounty to benefit wild birds and small animals in the neighborhood.
The practice, still not really widespread, perhaps requires a word of explanation.
Every year, during the latter part of the week following Thanksgiving, my father — weary of the unending menu of hot turkey sandwiches, cold turkey sandwiches, turkey stew, turkey and dumplings, ground turkey burgers, turkey soup, turkey omelets and turkey consommé magically transformed into a kind of avian aspic — devised a plan to get rid of all that remaining, if somewhat dubious, turkey.
It was, in part, a consequence of his own doing.
Always a frugal man, my dad at some point discovered that he could buy a really big turkey for just a few pennies more than a smaller one would cost. Quality and flavor always were secondary considerations if price reared its ugly head, and father generally arrived at home with a live bird only slightly smaller than your average Shetland pony. Sometimes it wasn’t smaller at all.
I recall one November remarking that the turkey he’d brought home early that year looked strong enough to pull a hay-cart in the annual Fords Prairie Grange parade. The Grange parade, I hasten to explain, was a small celebration, to be sure, but what it lacked in size it more than compensated for in sheer exuberance.
But I digress; my father looked at the gigantic bird for a long moment and then turned back toward me with that slightly dippy look in his eye that almost invariably indicated one more goofy scheme was about to hatch. Even at the first stirrings of puberty, I had sense enough to change the subject before it could grow into another minor disaster.
In any case, by the last week of November my father was frantically searching for a suitable way to dispose of a bushel of leftover turkey in a manner that wouldn’t suggest waste. (To a person of exceedingly frugal tendencies, throwing away food — even the corpse of a turkey on the very doorstep of botulism — was too shameful to contemplate.)
He had tried burying the meat, bones and solidified stuffing in his garden on the pretext he was improving on the Pilgrims’ method of putting a fish in each hill of corn for spring fertilizer. A substantial number of very large dogs, dozens of out-of-work cats and countless rodents descended on our place with an intensity that would make a buffalo stampede seem insignificant.
We were afraid to leave the house until the second Sunday of Advent, but at least my father had no need to spade the garden plot that spring.
None of father’s other turkey-disposal schemes were nearly as effective as the “fertilizer ploy,” as he called it, until he hit upon the idea of cutting turkey, carcass, stuffing, cheese-drenched broccoli, stale breadstuffs and the usual pot of untouched yams into a hearty mix, which he scattered about the premises for the benefit of the crows and gulls that hung around the old homestead.
It was an immediate success. The offending leftovers were consumed in a trice, and father got to bask in the unaccustomed glow of wildlife altruism and unqualified triumph.
Typical of one whose entire success is built upon preposterous accident, father issued the inevitable proclamation.
“Now, that’s what I call killing two birds with one stone,” he sagely observed as he stood beaming on the back porch, watching the feeding frenzy.
Only two?

Russ Mohney, was a fourth-generation Lewis County outdoorsman. He expanded the best of his decade’s worth of “Backyard Naturalist” columns into a book. Copies of “A Simple Song: Recollections from a Backwoods County” are available at Book ‘n’ Brush, the Lewis County Historical Museum and The Chronicle.