Giving thanks for the great outdoors


Black Friday. How did the world come to this?

While hordes of shoppers attacked retail locations in an early-morning raid, I slept soundly with my belly still full from a late-night second round of Thanksgiving helpings. Extra comfort was added by a Hudson Bay blanket and heat from a wood stove. I almost felt sorry for those troubled souls running and fighting their way through aisles to save a few bucks on gadgets that will be in a landfill a few years from now.

The coming day for me would be one filled with outdoor chores of clearing brush and thinning trees, before finally wading into a small spring creek to try and tempt one of the very few naturally reproducing rainbow trout into hitting a tiny fly I tied myself.

I’m thankful for a lot, but one thing for sure is a strong sense of personal gratitude for the good fortune that somehow my raising and DNA aligned to drive me away from crowds and material goods, and into the throes of nature’s grip.

This Thanksgiving was bittersweet. It was the first holiday of my life devoid of grandparents. The days of my youth are far behind me now, but the comforting smell of grandma’s house and the sight of grandpa carving the turkey are as real today as when they were an actual reality. Nothing was better than grandpa precisely slicing off a piece of turkey, dipping it into the juices at the bottom of the pan and giving it to me as a tester piece. I’ll cherish those days forever.

As I complained to an old sage recently about how small my family has become, he told me that in your life there are times of expansion and contraction. I’m in a time of contraction. With my grandparents gone, now their children have dispersed and have assumed patriarchal roles of their own, so my uncles, aunts, cousins and their kids are now gone from these holidays, too. And as the average number of children per family continues to dwindle, families are contracted. A decade from now, I’ll be entering the era of potential grandchildren. But until then, our holiday dinners aren’t going to require a lot of chairs around the table.

This year it was six. My parents, my wife and two kids. And you know what? It was great. We spent Thanksgiving and the following weekend at our cabin in the woods. The silence of the world around me as I sat on the porch drinking coffee Friday morning made me grateful for nature’s escape and my unquenchable desire to be in the wild.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy giving gifts. So I’m not knocking the idea of trying to buy something nice for a person you care about. But Black Friday? Fighting crowds in the early morning darkness to save a few bucks on stuff made in China? You can do better than that.

Don’t waste your time and money trying to force a gift. Instead, create an outdoor adventure and commit to doing it with the person you hope to please. Create your own “gift certificate” for a completely planned and booked outdoor trip. Have the details worked out and spend real quality time with that person. I know this won’t work for everyone on your list, but there is a good chance the outdoors-person in your life, the one you say “already has everything,” actually does already have everything he needs. What they want is quality time with those they care about doing activities outdoors they enjoy. Give it a try. I think everyone involved will be happy you did.

See you down the trail …

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