Kate Abbott: Giving thanks for the Berkshires as wild turkeys pass by

Thursday November 22, 2012

I’m thankful for cold nights. When I leave this building late at night, the crisp air, and the frost on the oak leaves in the grass remind me that I live in the mountains. They feel clear and clean.

Friends invited me to a bonfire on the first cold night of the fall, on a night when the leaves were finally deep enough on the grass for children (and the adults running with them) to swish through. Crisp air brightens the stars, heightens the night sounds and makes the fire a welcome relief.

I say all that knowing that I can heat my apartment enough for comfort. I am thankful for my insulated walls and wool blanket.

This is a holiday made for thanks, and as I think about it, we must have an unusual perspective on it, because it was invented right about here. We have adapted most of the holidays we still keep to our own climate -- no matter how many camels they come with -- but this one began not far over the ridge. Turkeys, cranberries, corn, squash all simply grow here. Row over bog pond in Savoy in mid-summer, and you’ll see the wild cranberries blooming.

Thanksgiving is a dinner of whatever happened to be in the storehouses at the time of year when the harvest was in, and before families left the villages in the light snow to set up the winter hunting camps Pontoosuc Lake is named for. I am thankful that New England has a holiday with the flavor of its own, though I wonder whether families in Sonoma or the Bayou or the Mojave Desert change the menu.

And I am thankful that the people who had spent long spring days tapping maple trees, long summer hours growing the corn and chasing the birds from the fields, gathering mussels and smoking sturgeon, drying strawberries and juniper berries, and tending the woods to grow hickory and chestnuts, butternuts and beech nuts, asked my waterlogged ancestors to dinner.

The earliest Abbotts in my family tree to reach this coast are supposed to have dropped anchor farther south in the 1600s, and if I could meet them we would undoubtedly disagree on many things (if we could understand each other through their 15th-century Scots and my 21st-century American). They would want me to wear petticoats. They’d be scandalized that I can read.

But I’m thankful that the people they met, when they climbed off of their grubby ships after months at sea, kept them alive. I have to be thankful, because if they had not come, I would not be here. And I love this place -- its hills, limestone, hemlock and red spruce and hard rock maple, glacial till and wild turkeys.

So I am thankful for the young turkeys who surrounded my car not long ago when it was parked at Cricket Creek Farm and called to each other in a soft whistling I had never heard before.

I’m thankful for all the small farms who raise turkeys.

I’m thankful that if I take the right back road, on the right sunny afternoon, over the right shoulder of the hill, I may still see a line of wild turkeys crossing into the hayfields, the hen and the turkey cock and this year’s half-grown chicks, and I will stop as long as it takes to let them all go safely by.


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