Giving Thanks

By Michael Dover Gazette Contributing Writer 

Thanksgiving has come and gone yet again. The old English harvest festival, which morphed into a celebration of the first New England colony’s survival, later became our first true secular holiday, enshrined by presidential proclamations and eventual federal law. These days a skeptic might be forgiven for failing to see much thanks-giving among the shopping frenzy and football mania that seem to dominate the weekend. And there are those who question celebrating the beginning of the end of Native American sovereignty over their land.

But think what you may about the history of Thanksgiving—or, for that matter, its present commercialized manifestation—there’s something to be said for taking a moment to reflect and feel gratitude for the blessings that life has given us. Contemplating our environs, and the people and all the other creatures that inhabit this place, I find much to be grateful for.

I’m thankful for the agriculture of the Pioneer Valley and surrounding area. From apples to zucchini, we live in an abundant place. Farming is almost as old as human settlement here, and as new as the latest generation to take on this honorable if risky profession. I’m grateful that I can buy milk from a dairy within a couple of miles of my home, and vegetables from another farm close by, both owned and run by the same families for more than a century. And I can visit farmers’ markets where old hands and relative newcomers sit side by side selling their fresh, delectable wares to enthusiastic crowds.

I’m thankful for the organizations that support these farmers, helping them overcome the economic and technical hurdles that could bring them to their knees. The Cooperative Extension Service and the UMass Agricultural Experiment Station together serve as the R&D arm of area growers. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) does yeoman work promoting local farms and farmers. And land trusts like the Kestrel Trust provide the wherewithal to keep farmland in production rather than being turned into subdivisions. Farming thrives here because we all make it possible.

I give thanks to the conservation ethic that also thrives here. We’re fortunate to have a whole range of protected lands and waterways, courtesy of town conservation commissions, numerous land trusts, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Trustees of Reservations, and state and federal involvement in setting aside valuable habitat for present and future generations to count on. Of course, preserving these spaces isn’t always easy, and I’m grateful for an enlightened local citizenry that sees the importance of conservation even in difficult economic times.

I’m personally grateful for the many miles of bicycle paths and back roads in the Valley, which allow me to travel safely through some of the loveliest scenery a cyclist could ask for. It’s the combined efforts of local, state and federal agencies, along with crucial public support, to make the bike paths happen and, as a beneficiary, I thank them all.

I’m thankful for the many naturalists in our area who bring their wealth of knowledge to us all, so that we can understand and appreciate the diversity of life that surrounds us. Some have contributed to this column, some offer lectures and workshops and field trips through the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and other organizations in and around the Valley. All of these wonderful people enrich my life with their teachings. Although I was trained as an ecologist, my education didn’t include much in the way of natural history, so I continue to feel tremendous appreciation for those folks who know the land and its inhabitants so well.

These thoughts have focused so far on the people and institutions that help make this place what it is. My final offering of thanks is for all the other beings that share this space with us. For this, I’ll defer to Walt Whitman’s words, from Leaves of Grass:

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,

And the pismire [ant] is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren, And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,

And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven, And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery, And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue, And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

Michael Dover is a retired environmental scientist and member of the Hitchcock Center board.

Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 525 South Pleasant St., Amherst, appears every other week. For more information, call 413-256-6006, or write to us.

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