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Archive for Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Naturalist extols the wisdom of the wild

November 16, 2011

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Equal parts science and poetry, “My Life as a Turkey” on “Nature” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) has nothing to do with Thanksgiving. At least not the holiday.

Naturalist Joe Hutto sets out to find a nest of wild turkey eggs, hatch them and then “imprint” himself on the hatchlings, so they would think he was their “mother.” Then, following the logic of a dream, or perhaps a Hollywood movie, he sets out to raise them in the wild, spending every waking hour strolling through forests and meadows as they develop from helpless chicks to truly wild creatures.

As a naturalist, he learns their language and habits. As a mother, he exults in their personalities, strengths, skills and weaknesses.

Narrated in a spare, matter-of-fact style, Hutto shares the wisdom learned from being part of the wild. According to him, the forest opened to him in new ways when he was in the company of his brood. Creatures that would have avoided him as a human were not frightened by him as part of a fowl gang. Being a turkey allowed him to enter a paradise that he was more than a little fearful of losing once he returned to humanity.

Most of all, Hutto explains, the birds taught him to live in the eternal present. Unable to anticipate the fields that lay beyond them or the hours that awaited them, they fully experienced every waking second, a way of life all but foreign to thinking people who dwell so much on the future or the past that they rarely appreciate the now.

Powerful as they are, Hutto’s musings are probably best appreciated in the pages of his book, “Illumination in the Flatwoods,” upon which this gorgeous reenactment was based. It’s impossible while watching “Turkey” not to wonder just where and when did Hutto eat and sleep? Just how did he survive? That’s the problem with “Nature” moving from documentary to something like “Turkey,” which is closer to a movie, with all of the fiction that implies. Perhaps those are questions better suited to a “Survivor” episode than something as beautiful, moving and transporting as “My Life as a Turkey.” At the end of the film we’re told that Hutto has taken up with a family of mule deer, which presumably make enlightening company.

• Hosted by Ridley Scott, “Prophets of Science Fiction” (9 p.m., Science) explores a new author every week. Tonight: Philip K. Dick. A repeat from last week (8 p.m.) discusses Mary Shelley.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Competition continues on “The X Factor” (7 p.m., Fox).

• A campus shooter pleads insanity on “Harry’s Law” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Neighbors in need on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).

• “NOVA” (8 p.m., PBS) presents “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Quantum Leap” hosted by Brian Greene.

• “MythBusters” (8 p.m., Discovery) is not afraid to be all wet.

• Repetition and revenge on “CSI” (9 p.m., CBS).

• A key witness may be delusional on “Law & Order: SVU” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Emily’s scheme unravels on “Revenge” (9 p.m., ABC).

• Moira helps out with a buyer on “American Horror Story” (9 p.m., FX).

• Outnumbered and overpowered on “American Hoggers” (9 p.m., A&E).

• A killer imitates the murderous Kray twins from the 1960s on “Whitechapel” (9 p.m., BBC America)

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