Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanksgiving Gratitude -- (scroll down)

When I was a YMCA camp counselor across the Champlain Valley in the Adirondacks, we closed every two-week camping period with a campfire on the last evening. Entering the fire ring, everyone got three small woodchips. During the ceremonies and singing, the light faded and the campfire burned down until it was just a few glowing embers.

Then we invited each camper and counselor to line up, approach the dying fire, and toss his ...

PHOTO: Katie Isham and I at Frost Cabin for Step It Up.

... chips on the embers while voicing gratitude for two or three things about his camping experience.

As round after round of thanks echoed in the cool evening, the fire again sprang to life and brightened every boy’s face.

The thanks that most touched me were by scholarship campers from the inner city. They were thankful for “all these trees” or “seeing my first horse,” or “the peanut butter sandwiches in the mess hall.” Comments like that often drew a few sniggers -- until we realized that these kids truly meant it, and that regular peanut butter sandwiches were more than mom could afford to feed them at home.

Since those long sweet Adirondack summers, there have been times in my life when the flames again burned low. When it seemed like gratitude was the only thing that got me through.

Because when the blues come calling – and don’t kid yourself, they call on everybody – sometimes the blessings of life can seem pretty remote.

Luckily for me, I learned to recall the way that fading campfire was stoked into a blaze by chips of thanks. Even in the darkest hour before the dawn, I could force myself to come up with three things for which I was grateful.

And then I figured if I could come up with three things, there must be three more. And could I then add six more things for which I felt just the slightest bit of thanks and make it 10 total, and – well, you get the idea. Usually at least one of those 10 would bring the glimmer of a smile, and the fire would burn on.

So it is in this spirit that I offer a list of gratitude during November Stick Season. Perhaps it will inspire you to make your own mental list of the grace notes in your life.

This Thanksgiving I am grateful:

* That we’ve got a dedicated group of volunteers who make our fire, ambulance and other emergency services so responsive and effective. Their ability to handle and contain the damage from last month’s train derailment was truly impressive.

* For our farmers markets. Part cornucopia, part meeting place, part spectacle, they make weekends shine.

* For Middlebury College hockey. The college has somewhat mysteriously become a sports powerhouse, and it doesn’t get any better than the hockey teams. The men and women are perennial contenders for national titles. The balletic athleticism that fills every minute of these games is hockey at its very best. The hockey programs at the municipal rink are also a treat.

* That we have so many talented tradespeople. From plumbers and heating experts to carpenters and handymen, the long Vermont tradition of honest craftsmanship and good service lives on.

* That we can heat so easily with wood. No other form of heat comes close. When there’s a blaze in the wood stove and my wife and I are camped on the couch between the stove and the blazing fireplace – a cat on each of our laps – hey, it doesn’t get much better. (Added benefit: Wood heat is local and virtually carbon-neutral.)

* For coffee at Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe. You may have your own favorite haunt. For me, some days call for the bustle and smiling staff at Middlebury Bagel. Other days when I just want the waitress to call me “Hon,” it’s Rosie’s or Steve’s Park Diner. But there’s no place quite like Carol’s. Community hot spot, purveyor of Ralston’s Roast and Bud’s Beans and Alta Gracia. Music on the weekend. Ample outlets for every laptop, two couches, a window seat from which to see and be seen, and a counter full of goodies.

* Sox win! After the stomach-turning late-night tumult that was Boston’s uncertain journey to the World Series crown in 2004, it was so satisfying this year to watch them stylishly banish Cleveland and Colorado.

* For the Vermont writers whose work articulates what is special about our world: John Elder’s sparkling evocation of Robert Frost and the Ripton-Bristol landscape in Reading the Mountains of Home; Jeffrey Lent’s monumental novel In the Fall; Chris Graff’s Dateline Vermont; Jay Parini’s absorbing biography of Frost; Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy and Wandering Home; Howard Frank’s Mosher’s tall tales; Chris Bohjalian’s Before You Know Kindness. Read ‘em and smile.

* For the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. How good is this place? Professional chefs come from other counties to buy the makings of their restaurants’ dinners at the co-op. In addition to first-rate organic food, good lighting, competent staff, a dedicated volunteer board of directors and a smorgasbord of natural products, the co-op is the most convivial shopping environment this side of Santa’s lap.

* For yoga with Joanna Colwell at her Marblework studio. In 25 years of doing yoga at many centers, I’ve rarely seen any better teacher, especially at offering instruction for all ages, body types and abilities.

* That even more than four years into this stupid blunder of a war in Iraq, there are people willing to show up every Saturday morning on the Middlebury Green and hold a space for peace at the weekly half-hour vigil.

* That as divergent as opinions are on the war, neither opponents nor the few remaining supporters of the war have forgotten the brave women and men who serve in the armed forces in Iraq and elsewhere. I had the opportunity to visit wounded veterans in Walter Reed hospital this year and see the terrible human consequences of this pointless war – such as dazed young men with bodies that just below their torsos. May we never forget their sacrifice. I wish that as voters, we had given them a better leadership and a noble mission.

* For living in a country that dedicates a holiday to the simple act of saying “thank you.” Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Keep your fire glowing.

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