I’ve heard that a domesticated turkey will stare at the sky with its mouth open in a heavy rain and drown. I worked as a farmhand on a turkey farm in my youth and I never saw this happen, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I had the impression that the turkeys weren’t so much stupid as just being slow thinkers. I couldn’t help but identify with them at times.
To be honest, I was a mediocre farmhand. Monotonous physical labor gave me time to think, which I liked, but I’d become so engrossed in the personalities of my charges that my work would slow. Or a soft, spring breeze might distract me, or the beauty of the bucolic Ozarkian landscape.
Of course, most of my dealings with turkeys were inside long metal buildings. However, on occasion, they were herded from one structure to another. I remember one particular day with a biting subzero wind chill that the turkeys had to be moved. When they stepped out of their warm home and the first blast of cold air hit them, their inclination was to immediately settle down onto the ground despite the humans yelling and flapping their arms behind them.
In Army basic training, a drill sergeant accused me of thinking too much, an activity better left to higher pay grades, and I saw the point. In combat, if you stop and slowly and thoughtfully consider your predicament, the odds increase you’ll get yourself or someone else killed. That is a time for your training to kick in, a time for that obedience to the experienced sergeant directing your actions.
As it is with herding turkeys in a bone-numbing wind. The obedient turkeys made it to the next warm building and lived. The turkeys who ignored the frantic humans and settled down to conserve body heat while they slowly and thoughtfully considered their predicament, froze to death by the dozens.
It has been thirty years since that day at the turkey farm and I’m still trying to determine the inherent risks of being a slow but independent thinker.