There's never enough time at Thanksgiving to really thank the people we appreciate the most. The holiday and the weekend seem to be consumed with a high-speed treadmill race to get here and there, visit friends and family and then dine on an excess of comfort foods.
Once all of the cooking and baking and slicing are done, the break is over and we jump back into the fast lane, racing toward Christmas. It always turns out to be a race we have no chance to win.
But amidst all of the eating and shopping and the chaos that swirls around Thanksgiving, it seems more than appropriate to take a moment to express our gratitude for what really matters - the people in our lives.
Those of us that enjoy the outdoors need to make special note of all the folks who have made our fishing and hunting and camping ventures possible. We are grateful for the people who join us on such ventures, the people who arrange these trips, the people who accommodate them and even those who barely tolerate it.
The short list of individuals I need to thank for giving me a key to the outdoors starts with the matriarch of our family, my mother. She is both the strongest woman I have ever known, and the kindest. And there is no contradiction involved.
It's a blessing to have a mother who took advantage of every opportunity to make the outdoors part of her children's lives. She was always a champion of fresh air, yanking the windows open to let nature recharge our home environment. She would pull the curtains all the way back so every thread of sunlight could wash inside the house. If the temperature was above 40 degrees, she wanted no part of the clothes dryer, choosing to let wind and solar energy do its job out on the clothesline.
Mom loved gardens much more than she liked grass. Consequently, we had a difficult time finding a stretch of lawn where we could put together a football game, or engage in wiffle ball home run derby. But the gardens were everywhere, and each time you walked outdoors they kind of wrapped their arms around you and massaged you with fragrances and bright colors.
My mother always considered picnics a three-season sport. There were some fall family outings where we saw a snow flake or two as we passed around ham sandwiches and cole slaw, and others where the accumulated frozen precipitation from that receding winter had not yet disappeared as we chose the first 50-degree day in March to kick off the picnic season with hamburgers on the grill.
I am so thankful I had a mom who never complained about us taking her plastic containers to put night crawlers in, or dragging stringers full of fish into the kitchen sink to clean after dark. She was unflappable, never panicking when we brought frogs or toads or baby birds in the house.
She was willing to accept whatever we brought back from our many fishing and hunting trips, and prepare it in her kitchen where some magical transformation took place. She could make rabbit or pheasant into a delicacy, and create gravy that blessed everything it touched.
Only now do I really fully appreciate all that Mom did to make those many family camping trips to Michigan work so well. She did most of the organizing and packing, and could prepare what amounted to a banquet meal for a dozen with nothing more than an open fire and a small camp stove.
We all had warm, dry sleeping bags, regardless of the weather, and anytime one of the younger kids was scared by the night sounds in the outdoors, Mom just pulled them closer and everything was fine. She put bandages on scraped knuckles, dressed bee stings with ice packs and rocked fussy babies to sleep next to the fire.
There's a million things to be thankful for, every day of every year. But on this Thanksgiving, it seemed like the time to recall all of the ways that my mother made enjoying the outdoors so easy.
I never saw her hunt or fish, but that resume has 90 years of entries on it, and most of them involve just doing things for others. She opened up the wonders of the outdoors to many, and we all are so thankful that she did.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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