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From the Woodlot
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From the Woodlot

From the Woodlot

“On days when I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” – Singer-songwriter, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Consider whether to wing it or prepare it before sitting at that table laden with bounty, with the scent of bronze-skinned roast turkey filling the room, behind the steam of mashed potatoes, and yams swimming in brown sugar and butter. I’m talking about the Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table with guests, giving each one time to express what he or she is grateful for. It’s a time to engage in the healthy practice of saying it out loud. Preparation is good; a cheat sheet is a fine idea. Perhaps read a favorite poem or recite the lyrics of a song that has significance. Winging it has its advantages too; spontaneity can lead to self-discovery.

My list is longer than the list of items in the back of my pickup truck. The people in my life come to mind first. Thirty-six years of marriage to my wife and soulmate sits at the top. A 1-year-old grandson who always makes me smile is also up there. Friends and cousins rooted in the country, fellow gardeners, rural-philosopher cohorts, and penners of poems and essays are there.

Nature also has its place on my gratitude list. Paddling across a glassy lake on an early-November morning to test my skill at steadying a 400-millimeter telephoto lens to capture two wary Trumpeter Swans comes to mind. Soon after a soaring eagle riding a thermal found its way to my camera lens. The finest October fishing I’ve ever experienced could comprise my Thanksgiving around-the-table gratitude moment for 2021 – the fight of large-mouth bass the color of glistening gems finding their way into my canoe for a brief moment before being released. Or there’s a chance encounter with an ancient relic – a snapping turtle headed for its winter burrow at the shoreline of a tannic-watered northwoods lake.

There are people and nature on my list – and writing, the sometimes-transformational experience of re-living events in my life through written words. As to the notion that complete strangers might take the time to read my recollections, for that my gratitude cup is overflowing.

Recently I stumbled upon a list of questions to ask myself when pondering the things I’m grateful for in life. I thought it was a good exercise.

  • If you could thank one person, living or deceased, for his or her influence on your life, who would it be? – My grandfather has the nod here; he was a prolific storyteller, lumberjack and dairy farmer. I followed his footsteps in a few ways. In regard to Thanksgiving he always said he’d prefer to spend it in his woodlot on a maple stump waiting for a white-tailed buck to saunter by. He figured a baloney sandwich and thermos of coffee would make a fine Thanksgiving meal in the woods. Now that woodlot is mine and I sit on stumps trying to lure chickadees to eat out of my hand.
  • What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned this year?
  • What is the biggest struggle in your life right now?
  • What song or poem describes your life during the past year?
  • If you could invent a holiday, what would it be called and what would it celebrate?
  • What random acts of kindness have you received this year?
  • What qualities do you possess that make you a good friend?
  • What is the biggest compliment you’ve received this year?
  • What are three things that always make you smile?
  • If you could share Thanksgiving with one historical figure who would it be? – My answer for this one is the late author John Steinbeck. My hope is our conversation would last until the wee hours of daylight, perhaps over a glass of single-malt Scotch and a leftover-turkey drumstick. Hopefully some of his genius would rub off on me.

My list could go on. Hopefully it stimulates some thinking about gratitude in your life. I’m no expert by any means; I need to remind myself daily to keep my gratitude level higher than my expectations.

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday. Until December …

Greg Galbraith, a former dairy farmer who owns woodlot property in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, writes about the rapidly changing nature of the agricultural landscape. He has built a lifetime connection to the land and those who farm it.

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