*Photo taken from bridge over Otter Brook, at Otter Brook State Park in New Hampshire.
Right around the usual time of year, snow coats New England. As a child, I remember most Thanksgivings being snowy and cold, though in the last decade or so that has changed. Winter seems to be starting later in the year, often waiting until after Christmas for the big snowfall that freezes the ground and makes it stick. We’ll see if this most recent snow will be the one that begins the season, but either way the world outside my window is dusted with white powder, and several inches are projected to fall throughout the day today. School has been cancelled, a new concept for me. In Western New York, we could expect to see several inches of snow with every lake effect storm, and if we cancelled school every time we saw that amount of snow, we’d be missing school every week. For the amount of snow falling today, we probably wouldn’t even delay, but I won’t complain about getting to stay home and write. Yesterday at school, we took the kids out to the playground to play in the small amount of snow left from the storm last Friday, the Noreaster that was supposed to dump lots of snow. We barely had enough snow to pull the sleds over the newly-mulched playground, but we had fun anyway. The older students went to the hill on the playground to sled, and it was fun to watch them enjoy the weather. Over the weekend I had time to enjoy a local state park which is minutes down the road, and I am pleased to report it was lovely. I’ll get into the description in a minute, but first I want to share a few thoughts about Thanksgiving.
Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of posts on social media that talk about abolishing Thanksgiving for the same reasons we should abolish Columbus Day. Understandably, we can and should be more sensitive to being honest about what our holidays actually celebrate; are we celebrating family, or are we celebrating European occupation? Both Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have roots in celebrating a misrepresentation of true history, in which European colonists came to the US when it was still rightfully occupied by indigenous peoples, and then Europeans savagely abused their power. Make no mistake: European settlement everywhere in the world did much the same thing to any culture it chose to dominate, and the saying “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a true statement for hundreds of years. Though much of that empire has been reduced in size, the lasting effects of pillaging across the globe for resources, wealth, slaves, and land still exist today. Because much of our culture in the US is based in traditions which do not question the source of why we celebrate anything, I am not really a believer in holding to traditions. I know most US citizens who celebrate Thanksgiving believe the holiday is about giving thanks, eating turkey and stuffing, remembering a mythical story about puritans and indigenous people having a meal, and watching a football game, but it’s not really about that at all. Really, Thanksgiving is partially about maintaining an idea about history which doesn’t actually exist, and continuing to honor a false story of our nation’s bloody truth. Honestly, what holiday celebrates the truth of its origin? Definitely not Halloween or Easter, but don’t let me get you down.
Ever since I was a child, I have loved Thanksgiving. It has been one of my favorite holidays because I loved the food, loved the time our families usually spent playing games, and the fact that I often got to go on a trip. In my adulthood, I loved Thanksgiving for the time I got to spend with family without having to do the stunts of other holidays, in which I needed to spend a lot of time and money on gifts or decorations or festivities which often didn’t interest me. Most holidays, if celebrated the way a majority of my Christian friends did, were too intensely oriented to expensive, time-consuming activities like those around Christmas or Easter, but even Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and other holidays often meant a lot of time and money (don’t get me started about consumerism and holidays—ick). In contrast, Thanksgiving was only about the meal. I loved that we just made a great meal and sat down to enjoy it without any other contrived activities attached. This is the idea of Thanksgiving which most appeals to me: spending time with people we care about, not pretending the history of such a holiday is roses and daisies. I don’t believe we should stop celebrating Thanksgiving, but I do believe we can be more honest about what happened to Native Americans, how the Europeans sold them up the river after enjoying that generous meal by killing them and enslaving them, and then we didn’t actually celebrate this as a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln penned the proclamation during the Civil War. All this information, by the way, can be found through a simple Google search. Lots of sources from Wikipedia to scholarly journals to personal transcripts of family history can be found on the internet, and I advise reading about it if you want to be informed. Let me just say here that public school should not be your main source of information about history—and I used to be a public school teacher.
So, if you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, please consider questioning your knowledge of why we celebrate. Be thoughtful of all the people in the world who suffered before this holiday was created, and be thankful for your life today. Remember that colonization created a narrative of literally white-washing history, erasing the true contributions of people of color from all over the world. If you are fortunate enough to have the money and time for a wonderful meal with your family—even if you don’t enjoy spending time with them—be thankful for that gift. Many people across the nation will not have a warm, safe place to eat, and many of those people are the same color and culture as those we slaughtered and enslaved because of misguided beliefs about religion and God. No matter what your religious beliefs, I don’t believe any higher power desires the death of other peoples or cultures simply because one group has a vision of a different future than another. Celebrate with the gratitude of truth, be kind if you can, and rethink the traditions. Traditions aren’t set in stone, and we reserve the right to change them anytime we want. It’s still a free country. If you dare to be uncomfortable, have conversations with your family about the true history of Thanksgiving, and maybe donate some time or money to organizations which are helping indigenous people, immigrants, or others in need so we can help them heal from their current strife. With that said about the upcoming holiday, allow me to share my exploration at Otter Brook.
On weekends, I do my best to make time for hiking. Now that I work Monday through Friday again (for now), I don’t always have the time or energy to hike during the week. I always make time for a walk, which is very fortunately in the woods due to my current location, but it’s not quite the same kind of fun as exploring a trail—at least, not for me. A couple of years ago, on our first stint of staying in the Keene area for Michael’s first travel job, one of our house mates took the time to explore Otter Brook and she said it was a nice spot to walk. At the time, Michael and I were busy enjoying other things in the region and never got around to visiting the place just down the road. Over the weekend, I decided that a place only minutes from my door sounded like exactly what I needed. Thus, I headed down route 9 toward Keene from Nelson, heading west. Only a short stint down the road from the Granite Gorge ski resort, one access to the park is located off route 9. If you’re coming from Keene and you get to Granite Gorge, you’ve gone too far. A small parking lot along the highway is located next to the road which accesses the park. At this time of year, cars cannot drive through because the park is considered closed for the season. Despite this, plenty of people park and walk the trails or roads, some of whom may be hunters. If you walk here during hunting season, wear bright orange to indicate you’re human. That’s a smart choice if you walk in the woods or explore the wild areas at any time of year, since hunters may be allowed in places you don’t realize until it’s too late. In the desert of Nevada, I encountered lots of public wild spaces which were open to target practice and hunting all year. Be safe.
Once I navigated into the park, I chose to stick to the roads for ease of access because I didn’t have a good map of the trails. A map of the park was posted at the entrance, but it was rudimentary and I didn’t want to think too hard. Another day I’ll get back out and try the trails for sure, since I discovered on my walk that a disc golf course lies hidden in the wooded area of the park. That looked fun, and I plan to have a little adventure to see where that goes when hunting season is over. What I found while walking the road was a pleasant small park loaded with family-oriented outdoor activities. I crossed a bridge which took me over the picturesque Otter Brook, for which the park is named, and walked along the road toward the lake fed by the river. On the shore of the lake is a beach and boat launch where people most likely frequent the park in summer. Places to picnic along the river are plentiful, and despite its proximity to the busy highway, the park was fairly quiet. The view from the road isn’t much to write home about, but the lake is pleasant, and the river is beautiful. Apparently pets are not welcome in the park, which is a shame, as too many parks in this state do not allow for people to walk their dogs. I may need to find out how I can make a change to this policy, as I do not believe I should be punished simply because a few pet owners were irresponsible. In any case, people are welcome to enjoy the water, picnic areas, and wooded preserves. The website for the park lists lots of sports activities, and recently I was told about a place that sells snowshoes for a low price; I might start snowshoeing this winter. 🙂
Soon I may need to get outside and shovel so Michael can get out of the driveway and go to work tonight. For the moment, I am enjoying a little quiet day in the brightness of new snow. Sometimes I marvel at the brilliance of nature in the way it provides more light in the darkest time of year. Without the leaf canopy of the woods, the snow provides plenty of light to be reflected even when the sun is hidden behind the clouds. As long as the snow stops falling in time for our travel to Olean tomorrow, I don’t mind the weather. I wish all of you a day of honest gratitude over the next few days, and a chance to consider how we can more deeply connect to the land on which we live, the people who live on that land, and how we can all be good to both. Changing the world starts with small acts between people and places, not necessarily huge impacts with large audiences. Each of us is a steward of the planet and its peoples, and your contribution to the betterment of the world matters just as much as everyone else’s. Believe. Listen. Act. Do it for love, and do it because it’s right. Your love is worth the effort.