“The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.” -Michael Josephson
We have just passed the singular day we celebrate giving thanks, as Thanksgiving was last week. But giving thanks is, for me, a daily practice. Every day is a chance for us to give thanks for our life, for the day ahead, for the people in our lives who love us, for our children, our family, and our true friends. Sometimes people view comments or attitudes as corny or idealistic. I have been accused of that many times. But I believe that if we were to embrace more idealism we would be able to accomplish much more as a world, particularly when it comes to giving thanks.
Next year it will be 400 years since the first Thanksgiving that we now celebrate happened. Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. After only half of the Mayflower’s passengers survived the brutal winter of 1620, they were greeted warmly by members of the Wampanoag tribe and later, he they were introduced to Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who greeted them in English.
Squanto had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans. later is a holiday that has enshrined giving thanks. Thankful indeed. A thanks that we should continue heaping on the Native American community, and help them all we can to preserve their “original” American heritage and deep legacy gifted to all of us.
And while these events may have contributed to the actual holiday of Thanksgiving, it should be a daily if not hourly occurrence in our lives. It is a daily prayer for me, giving thanks, as there is so much abundance in our lives that should be acknowledged.
In addition to all those I love in my life (you know who you are), my health and the obvious things, what am I thankful for from a “nature perspective”?
Nature is one of our greatest teachers. It is truly a gift from God and it provides for us virtually all of life’s greatest lessons:
Nature has taught me resilience and persistence, from the way the plants and animals in a forest regenerate after a forest fire, the way our bodies heal after an injury, and from a flower or weed that sprouts up out of a crack in the sidewalk. I give thanks for the way our natural environment withstands intense rain and snow storms only to flourish months later. And nature has taught me to never, ever give up. There is always hope that things will get better, because they usually do.
The rhythm of nature has taught me patience, that there is a time for everything, and that good things will come. Winter always turns to Spring, and Spring to Summer and then Fall. The rains will come for the plants and animals after dry spells, that we will be nourished in sunshine after cloudy days, and that intense heat will eventually be followed by cooler weather.
A walk in a quiet woods or field brings peace and balance to my life, even during hectic times. Spending time outside has huge benefits, and we need to tap into that outside “tonic” especially during these challenging times. Canoeing or kayaking in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota or the shores of Lake Superior has brought me that balance.
And this just in: from an article from Outside Magazine: Everyone knows exercise improves your mood and your health. You may have also heard that exercising in nature has even greater benefits, such as reducing stress and working to help keep your brain young.
But new research suggests adding a third element to the cocktail of physical activity plus the great outdoors leads to an even greater payoff. And for all of us who are stressed for time, you need only 15 minutes a week to see these benefits.
What’s this secret ingredient for this ultimate health boost? Awe. We have all experienced it in our lives. From that first feeling of true love, to the birth of our children, to a natural vista that took our breath away. Awe is the feeling of smallness and wonder you experience when you stand before something vastly bigger than you. It’s what astronauts feel when they look down at Earth from space or the rest of us feel looking up at the countless stars in the night sky. A significant body of psychology research shows awe helps us feel less anxious, more connected, and generally happier. And for my money the best place to experience it is in the great outdoors.
If any of you have ever experienced the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, then you also know awe. The very first time I experienced them I was camping with my dad and brothers in the BWCA. We saw them in the full colors of the spectrum – red, yellow, orange, blue, purple and green. It was the most amazing natural phenomena I have ever witnessed. I have never seen them so colorful since, mainly greens and purples, but still AWEsome!
And one of the most profound values that nature teaches us in harmony, getting along. In this divided political environment we are now in, we should recognize that we are much stronger together than we are apart. The division that has been encouraged these past 4 years is behind us, hopefully, and maybe we have all learned that our combined efforts to tackle the many challenges we face as a nation – Covid, a suffering economy for many, climate disruption, injustice, racism, and many more – can be overcome with a stronger, more united America.
In the natural world there is a relationship know as symbiosis. Symbiosis is a close relationship between two species in which at least one species benefits or better yet, a relationship in which both species benefit. If there was ever a time when we should take a page from Nature’s playbook, it is now, and is is a symbiotic relationship. When both conservatives and liberals can tackle life’s mutual challenges together and both receive the benefits. That is what we should strive for. Look to nature, our ultimate gift from God, for all the answers we need. They are there.
A genius once said “Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better.” I believe he knew what I am just now understanding…