UNFAIR FOWL Have the streets of Brookline been taken over by . . . turkeys?
Violent crime, gang activity, and general thuggery are not recurring themes on the Brookline police blotter. But that civic paradise is plagued by another kind of scourge — one that manifests all three of those crimes in avian form. And it isn't bird flu.
As a Manhattan emigrant to the Bay State, I've spent the past two years grooving on the relative bucolic idyll Brookline affords so close to the madding masses. Just a dozen really exquisite relay throws from the Green Monster brings one to the Longwood Mall, an historic park just one block south of busy Beacon Street named by wealthy 19th-century Boston landowner David Sears after Napoleon's house-in-exile on St. Helena.
Longwood Mall is also wild-turkey turf.
This wasn't always true. According to Catherine Williams of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, the state's last native wild turkey was killed in 1851, and it wasn't until around 1972 that her agency began repatriating the species to the Berkshires. The population has since expanded to about 25,000 and moved east.
I've actually rather enjoyed encountering the turkeys, as you just don't see these fowl in Manhattan — unless they're on an overstuffed sandwich with Russian dressing. So, whether driving or walking, I almost always stop when I see one. That's a personal policy I may change after an episode last week when, as I traipsed home from the Phoenix's Fenway offices, I saw two in Longwood Mall and took a step toward them with my cell-phone camera at the ready.
Tough as any gangbangers, the creatures aggressively advanced toward me. I took a careful step or two backward, very measured. Then they charged. I ran, half speed, slightly amused at the thought of turning tail to a couple of toms, but when I looked back, the fuckers were gaining on me. So I sprinted across the mall, jumping over the protruding roots of the largest grove of European beeches in America, chased by a couple of turkeys who had gone insane in the membrane. I turned a corner around a hundred-something-year-old beech and laughed at the deli-inspired irony of pulling a hamstring while being chased by turkeys — there's a club-sandwich joke in there somewhere.
Brookline animal-control officer Pierre Verrier admits that turkey attacks "have been a problem for the past couple of years," noting that it's actually illegal to "remove" them, so when people call, the best he can do is "shoo them away."
"They chase people around and sometimes stop traffic," he says. "For the most part, people can defend themselves."
For my part, I was also feeling a little embarrassed, but damn if they hadn't looked like velociraptors in pursuit, turning peaceful Longwood Mall into Jurassic Park. I had only seconds to consider this when the birds rounded the corner and came at me again.
This was turning into a Monty Python sketch. I summoned my best Usain Bolt impression and nearly took flight with the gobblers in hot pursuit. This time, I think I threw my back out. (These birds were nothing if not aiding my hypochondriachal sports-injury wish list.)
Sadly, gone now is any illusion that I can safely walk the streets of Brookline day or night (well, day, really). The best advice offered on a Massachusetts Fish and Game Web page, under the heading "Don't let turkeys intimidate you," is to swat at them with a broom or spray them with a hose — neither of which I carry with me. But I'll be brave, and if there ever is a real showdown, I've got my Russian dressing ready.
For more wisdom on dealing with Galliformes gone wild, visit mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/living/pdf/living _with_turkeys.pdf