An Outdoors Thanksgiving

Distant mountain peaks, seen from a ruffed grouse covert.

Tomorrow, our nation will again observe Thanksgiving Day; a holiday with roots going back to the 1600s, though not without some second thoughts about those fabled first Thanksgiving events that depict Pilgrims sitting down at the table with their Native American neighbors. 

The other side of the coin is that many thousands of Native Americans died from diseases brought by early European visitors, and in later years, as colonists increased in number, they made war on Native people, stole their lands and did all they could to wipe out Native people and culture.  In fact, descendants of Native American survivors, the United American Indians of New England, have, for many years, pushed for designation of Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning among Native Americans.

So, while the holiday is not necessarily festive for all Americans, for many, friends and families will be gathering tomorrow for a day of feasting, most likely on turkey, along with an array of traditional side dishes, such as sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie, with occasional breaks for football, board games, or groaning from overeating.

While we might go overboard on consumption, at some point in many households, someone might suggest that everybody gathered around the festive table briefly say what they’re thankful for, generally causing an awkward pause as people search their minds for something to share, perhaps sending telepathic messages of annoyance at the instigator.

I’ve given the topic some advance thought, and am sharing some ideas that readers may feel free to adopt as their own, if necessary.

 First, I’m thankful for another year in the great outdoors. From January treks across frozen fields in search of ducks, to mountain ski slopes, fly-fishing on Montana trout streams, and autumn hikes across mountains and prairies. I’ll confess that not all of those outings were particularly successful as far as catching fish or harvesting game. Still, each day in the outdoors was memorable and worthwhile.

I’m thankful for the wild turkey I got in the spring of 2018 and which subsequently graced last year’s Thanksgiving table. I say this in apology to guests who might be looking for more of the same. I’ll confess that I was so happy to finally check that bird off my bucket list that I never really thought about looking for another one in 2019.

I’m thankful for the gift of aging. Both my wife and I hit significant birthdays this year and we are thankful for good health that enables us to continue living fully. I am acutely aware that this is not something to take for granted. 

While many people in Christian churches observe All Saints Day for this reason, I’ll still express thanks this week for friends and loved ones who left us this past year. While their absence may cause sadness or heartbreak in many homes tomorrow, we can be grateful for happy memories that will continue to comfort us in coming years.

A Big Hole River arctic grayling – a precious jewel of a fish.

I’m thankful for the wonders of Nature. There are too many to list here, but I’ll suggest, for starters, a rainbow after a rainstorm, or a spectacular sunset. The delicate shades of green on an early summer prairie, or the gold and orange foliage of a grove of aspens and the delicate colors and sparkles of a Big Hole River arctic grayling. Whether we’re looking at the grandeur of a snowcapped mountain, or the delicacy of a honeybee gathering nectar from an apple blossom, there is beauty and mystery everywhere.

A honeybee enjoying our apple blossoms.
A rather ill-tempered rattlesnake telling me, “It’s MY path! Go somewhere else!”

I’m even thankful for the rattlesnake that barred my path, one summer day, on a Big Hole riverbank. It’s good to be reminded that Nature isn’t always rainbows and apple blossoms. Much of the natural world comes with claws, fangs and thorns. The Revolutionary War flag that proclaimed, “Don’t Tread on Me,” still has meaning.

Finally, I’m thankful for the gathering of family and friends at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast, while we also keep in mind that festive holidays such as Thanksgiving are a day of hurt and loneliness for some. May they find comfort and conciliation.

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