Happy Thanksgiving to anyone who either knowingly or accidentally stumbles across today’s post! I hope your list of things and people (perhaps that should be reversed) for which you are thankful is as long as a Summer day spent floating down a gentle river in a canoe, fingers draped over the side, making lazy swirls, as little fishies tickle your fingertips, and you sip your favorite brew, while your beloved gives you a foot massage and … well… I hope it is at least as long as this silly sentence!
One of my most memorable Thanksgivings had one item on my thankful list. Just one. I was thankful to be alive.
Time gets muddled with distance, so I’d have to think hard to figure out what year it was. Suffice it to say that I was young, adventurous, and looking at a wide open horizon of future promise, oblivious to the capriciousness of those wild siblings, Fate, Chance, and Luck.
I had traveled from Florida to Washington, DC, where I met a former boyfriend for a reconciliatory camping trip. He picked me up in the van he had outfitted for camping–bed in back, small refrigerator and storage along one side opposite the sliding side door. It was November, and cold, but being good Floridians, we were ignorant of the dicey weather in the higher elevations. So we merrily headed West towards the Mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.
Smoke Hole Canyon in West Virginia was one of my favorite spots. Camping along a lovely river, we had the place practically to ourselves. We hiked up the mountainside one day to one of the smoke holes scattered through the area, named because of their use by Indians to smoke meats and fish (also reputedly used by moonshiners during the era of Prohibition). I was amazed to find a rock outside the entrance to the cave that had sea fossils in it, a reminder that hundreds of millions of years ago, this part of the world was ocean floor.
We had enough of ocean floors, though, my friend and I. The balmy South lay far behind us, and we were eager to climb to great heights and enjoy new vistas. By Thanksgiving Day, we were camping in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area of West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. And it was snowing. A beautiful, gentle, pristine snow that beckoned us to come out and play!
That morning we had the bright idea to drive the van up a nearby mountain, tie a saucer sled to the rear bumper, and take turns towing each other over the snow-covered road. I suppose those three siblings I mentioned earlier have another, aptly named Sheer Stupidity.
It was my turn to drive. As I was navigating a downhill curve, I lost control of the van and it slid off the side of the road. The only thing stopping it from tumbling down a crevice were a few well-placed trees (thank you Master Luck) and the force of my suppressed screams acting as an invisible brake. My friend rolled off the sled, thankful it hadn’t served as a slingshot, and we got to work trying to back the van onto the road, spinning the wheels until they made the snow nice and icy.
As night began to fall, we set up our small tent, too nervous about sleeping inside the precariously positioned van. And guess what was on the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner! Honest to goodness, we just so happened to have a nice can of Chunky Turkey Soup on hand.
We were rescued the next day by the driver of a pickup truck that chanced to be passing our way, probably a hunter diverted from his fun by a couple of crazy, careless, quirky kids. We had no further adventures to match the likes of that Thanksgiving as we slowly and safely made our way back down to Florida. The relationship continued along its rocky course, eventually ending in heartbreak. Again. Oh, young love.
I think I shall focus on that shortlist this Thanksgiving. While I am eternally grateful for so much–people and things–it all boils down to a thankfulness for life. Life granted to us in mysterious measure. Life hopefully full of love, but always brimming with opportunities to learn, to stretch our limits, and to grow–hopefully wiser!
(Dedicated to the memory of Robert Rice, who passed away a week ago, and his wife Betty. Bob lived a life full of love, humor, and courage, all of which helped to sustain him through a long illness. I am glad to have known him and am blessed to continue to have Betty as a friend. Rest in peace, Bob.)