We ate almost entirely from our Bluestone bounty on Thanksgiving Day this year. Our table was laden with foods that would have been quite familiar to our forebears of about two hundred years ago. No, not those first pilgrim folk; their thanksgiving wasn’t a celebration of a groaning table — they were rejoicing that they were still alive after their first new-country year.
But in the opening years of the nineteenth century, this holiday had come to be more about thankfulness for food than for survival. No longer were folks on the East Coast terrified of nearly everything non-human that moved; they were busily hunting and farming, with a zeal that would soon enough spread across the continent in a frenzy of killing in the name of “taming the land”.
The Thanksgiving celebrants of 1808, though, had yet to cross that line. They were living close to the land, thankful for its continuing gifts of food, clothing and beauty. They would have sacrificed a goose, duck, chicken, or some wilder fowl; deer would been a frequent bonus; root crops freshly gathered and vegetables and fruits dried and stored would have embellished both the main meal and the dessert offerings. Those fortunate enough to have cows (or a generous cow-endowed neighbor) would have had cheese and butter.
We, too, carefully culled our local flora and fauna for a feast of giving thanks. One of the too-many drakes, two of the broiler chickens, the choicest piece of a deer, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, greens (yes, they’re still around), dried beans and corn, winter squash, spices like hot peppers, mustard, garlic, onions and horseradish, dried herbs from the kitchen garden, home-made vinegar … all went into a meal fit for royalty.
The Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) became succotash loaded into a large winter squash (an edible serving dish); pumpkin, garden huckleberries and raspberries found their way into pies; Brussels sprouts were cooked in a sauce made with our own prepared mustard; venison was garnished with freshly made horseradish (which will embarrass even the best of the store-bought variety); potatoes, turnips, rutabaga and carrots were mashed with hot pepper seasoning; our own corn produced the most fabulous cornmeal dressing (and yes, we grind the corn ourselves).
Just like our 1808 ancestors, we are intimately tied with our food. We plant and nurse seedlings through the cold spring; we water and weed and chase away damaging bugs, and finally we harvest and preserve the vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices. We dry and crush and grind and mix; we wait patiently while the acetobacter in our own air inoculates our apple juice and slowly transforms it into delicious vinegar. We raise the ducks and chickens ourselves, and Bill took the deer (he’s an excellent hunter, only taking a shot he knows will be sure and immediately fatal), do our own slaughtering and plucking and skinning.
The food we won’t be consuming ourselves is shared with the wildlife around us, even the bobcat, who is an avowed lover of chicken. We take that risk, because the bobcat was nearly hunted to extinction, and we are glad for efforts to reintroduce it in our area.
We successfully tanned a rabbit hide and will try our hand with the deer hide. If that works, some among us will sport extremely warm clothing of some sort.
Taking life, whether it is a deer or a carrot, is costly. We don’t just know that in our heads — we feel it in our bodies. We do our best to share that cost and pray that, when our own time comes to share our energy in the great transformational round of creation, we will do so with respect and glad surrender.
Thank you, Great Spirit, for the gifts we enjoy and the gifts we will become.