There we were on the traditional Thanksgiving, a day when I’m not totally sure I’ve always been appreciative. Maybe because I was disgusted with the politics of the day, or because we are making such a mess of the planet, or because I was going through manapause, or I didn’t even see a deer while I hunted/slept in the woods. It just seems that, at times, the world slips by and some important aspects of our daily lives go unnoticed or I take things for granted. We are Americans, and we, at times, think what we have has always been and always will be. So why get all sappy about giving thanks?
It’s true the meaning of this holiday is historically probably up for grabs because when researchers get to pushing and shoving there well may be some discrepancy as to the veracity of it all. Certainly, the Native Americans have another take and even if we could get a direct interview of the first invaders/settlers the details might look very different.
All that aside (which is our modern tendency), I figured I’d pause, really pause with the basic question of, “Just what do we have?” Because most of this material wealth is just embraced with little thought, hardly with even a whisper of appreciation, I thought I’d go beyond the manifestations of industrial society, the contraptions, the devices of pleasure, the massive recreational toys, the huge warm houses and pets (some of whom have their own insurance policies and savings accounts), and get serious.
I paused while marveling these material gifts, realizing the vast majority of the people living on this planet don’t have any of those things. When I say that, I don’t mean just the poor people of the earth, the unwashed masses, I mean almost all people. In Europe, we noticed homes were much smaller, there were no SUVs, no four-wheelers, no pickup trucks, and on and on. Even the refrigerators and washing machines were much smaller and people simply walked everywhere.
But, I want to take it farther than those things, and mind you they are to be marveled, but there is in my country bumpkin mind, something else I’ve noted and – while it’s not material – it’s a local wealth found almost nowhere else on the world, and not even commonly in this country.
When I say these things, it’s not that I want every reader to immediately tell others, for what we have is ours because – unlike much of the world – there are few of us here.
So, I paused this Thanksgiving in quiet appreciation, and here is what I realized.
On any quiet evening, my wife and I can walk three blocks and slip our canoe silently into the local pond, gliding over peaceful water while watching the bald eagle grab a hapless fish off the surface. To the west, see a kingfisher make his noisy flight while a muskrat dips into his mounded rush home. There are graceful insects swooping and mayflies skipping, turning. To the north, a fish of some size jumps and the smell of the river, cool and comforting, roles over the canoe. We are alone on most evenings and the sounds of our small village disappear as the geese take over. This is a gift – and only part of that river’s gift.
Within a few minutes from our home, we can be on the shore of a pristine lake where a family of loons is trying out the new wings of the young, where huge frogs croak the calls of reptilian love, where the stately white pines lean away from the winter winds and leave perches for the green herons. Our friends laugh and, to a person, know the gift.
The roads about the countryside are less travelled and make pathways for cycling and the trails of the ice age paths are surrounded by hidden potholes left by glaciers, and even the uninitiated can count a dozen bird species with little effort. Along the water’s edge are the Cardinal flowers, the Joe Pye weed, and native Iris.
The forests are inviting and, unlike most places in the world, and I mean world, I can take my old Wingmaster shotgun and hunt for wild game as it were a right and not a privilege. In France, I asked if a person could harvest a wild hog that was tearing up the town. I was looked on as a naive American because only the privileged could “hunt” the swine. At the same location it was not difficult to notice that the native vegetation was gone, consumed centuries ago by goats, wars, and the trampling of human feet. No songbirds, no insects, probably no fungus. Here, we still have this flow of rich natural wealth.
Not to go unmentioned is the community where I can purchase all of our needs; an artisan loaf of bread, a hot tea, and virtually any piece of hardware I might need. A medical clinic is within walking, as is a grocery where the folks are friendly and the prices right. Why, the mortuary is only two blocks away and while waiting to go there, I can hoist one of the finest brews in the land. I ask, how many places in this world can a person have all of that? And this is just a very partial list. Where else? So I lift a glass and give thanks while listening to the graceful, but simply powerful tune, called the “Heart of the Heartland.”
We hold in our hands earth’s gifts.
It is not as if they can be truly held.
They can be seen, felt, touched, shown to others.
But in the end, they are cast unto the stars,
then to other times, hopefully unaltered by those same hands that held.