Who should be pardoning whom?

Around this time each year, a strange ritual takes place in the White House. Midst much televised fun and holiday cheer, the president of the United States issues an official pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey, usually presented to the president by the National Turkey Federation, is thus spared the fate of millions upon millions of its fellows. Those millions have of course been bred in inhumane conditions in the nation’s turkey farms, where they have been “grown” to an unnatural size for the purpose of providing the maximum amount of food for the Thanksgiving table. Within a mere few months, when they have reached around four times what would be a natural weight, they are then led to slaughter.

How come the concept of pardon has become so scrambled as used in this ritual? Who should be pardoning whom? It is most normal to receive a pardon after having done something wrong. As far as I know, there is no suggestion that the turkey is pardoning the National Turkey Federation and its members for unnatural breeding practices and wholesale killing — or the president for endorsing it.

If the president, any president, wished to publicly acknowledge the value of animal life, it would be refreshing if he (or she) were to apologize to the turkey, rather than pardoning it. At the very least, such a change would attach a minimum degree of sanity to the ritual.

I think I will celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way, by seeking out a flock of the wild turkeys that make Best Friends Animal Sanctuary their home. If I am lucky, I will witness a delightful ritual they practice each day. In the darkening light of dusk, it is not uncommon to see 20 or 30 of the dignified birds lining up on the canyon rim, whereupon at some imperceptible signal, they all launch themselves into the air and fly down to cottonwood trees 200 feet below, where they roost for the night. A beautiful sight, an expression and symbol of the freedom that is their right.