Thanksgiving Reflections from Montana

A turkey on the grill – basis for a feast.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and I ask, “Where did the rest of the year go?“

People across the country will be sitting down tomorrow at a table and sharing a festive meal. In fact, people who track these kinds of statistics tell us that 88 percent of our fellow Americans will be eating turkey this Thanksgiving, amounting to an estimated 736 million pounds of turkey meat.

My home state of Minnesota is the country’s leading turkey producer, sending some 46 million turkeys to market each year. My family never got involved with raising turkeys, thankfully. There are a lot of frustrations and risks involved in the process, primarily due to the fact that domestic turkeys are, unlike their wild ancestors, among the dumbest animals in God’s creation. A clap of thunder can send a whole flock of young turkeys stampeding into a corner, suffocating the farmer’s profits. Or, during a rain shower, adolescent turkeys are known to look up to see what that wet stuff is and drown themselves looking up at the sky.

A former co-worker grew up on a farm that did produce turkeys and at Thanksgiving time she’d often say she looked forward to that turkey dinner as an occasion to again get even with those stupid birds that afflicted her childhood.

When we sit down for dinner tomorrow with friends and family we’ll have a rare treat, as my contribution to the groaning table will be the wild turkey that blundered into shotgun range last May. That broke a 30-year drought marked by blunder and failure.

I’m thankful for many things and another year in the outdoors is at the top of the list.

I’m thankful for that turkey, just as I was thankful for the opportunity to catch a muskie a couple weeks later. There are still firsts, even as I approach the evening of a long, happy life.

I’m thankful for good health, not just for myself but our whole family. None of us have had any medical adventures this year, outside of the occasional sniffle or backache. That’s not something we take for granted.

That good health also means I’m thankful for days afield, whether Montana and North Dakota prairies, mountainside aspen thickets, or the trout streams of western Montana. I’ll include the ski slopes at Discovery and public tennis courts in those days afield.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate, in a small way, in the political process. I spent many hours this year as a volunteer in some political campaigns, one of many people who donated time and energy in the name of good government. As usual, not all of the candidates or issues I supported won at the polls. Still, it’s a privilege to be a small cog in our great democratic form of government. During my previous career as a federal employee, participation in politics was basically limited to the voting booth.

Outings with a good dog on Montana’s Federal public lands; something I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful, as a lover of the outdoors, for leaders who did, and do, so much to preserve our American traditions of public lands and public wildlife. All of us who hunt, fish, hike, camp, or just watch scenery, owe a debt of gratitude to giants such as Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and others who led the way to preserve our public lands, national parks, wildlife and fisheries. In much of the world, opportunities to recreate in a forest or wade a river are limited to the wealthy and privileged.

I’m thankful to the Founding Fathers of our nation who enshrined basic rights into the framework of our Constitution. For us journalists, Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the cornerstones of our existence, whether our beat is the White House or outdoor recreation in western Montana. Those guarantees are particularly important now, as they have been during other critical periods in our nation’s history.

So, tomorrow, as we gather with family and friends for a festive Thanksgiving dinner, we will be thankful—but resolute in protecting what is right and good in these United States.

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