Thanksgiving is sweet corn and zesty pumpkin pie.
It’s the rich smell of roasted turkey on a tablecloth patterned with fall leaves.
It’s the creamy thick taste of eggnog and the spicy aroma of apple cider.
It’s moist stuffing from the turkey until we’re stuffed ourselves like the bird.
It’s the blade of Autumn air on your cheek and the wind singing a requiem for summer in your ear.
”The hounds of Winter are on Autumn’s traces.”
It’s the cry of geese chased south by icy air. I think they call to us in geese language: “Hey, down there. My tail feathers are freezing off! Get ready for winter.”
“O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing ... “
Thanksgiving, on a darker note, is also an all but forgotten Native American named Squanto, the last member of the Pawtuxet Nation, cut down by the Pilgrim carriers of smallpox.
Still, Squanto, a former slave to the English, found it in his heart to teach these babes in the woods who built Plymouth Plantation near the ruins of his Pawtuxet village, how to use the corn, now growing wild from his nation’s abandoned fields; how to fish, and about herbs and fruits.
“The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth...
... Destroyer and preserver, hear, O hear!”
Squanto, this Mother Theresa of the New World, was honored in the first Thanksgiving, from which we get our image of the holiday. But things turned ugly in ensuing years, as pilgrims flooded to America for the promise of land. Native American land. They say that Squanto worked out a peace treaty that would allow the two groups to co-exist peacefully. But it didn’t last.
“I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!”*
Wars with Indian tribes followed. The Puritan settlers, clutching bibles, marched inland, and were joined by British settlers. The Pequot War was the bloodiest Indian war fought in the Northeast.
So this Thanksgiving, let’s enjoy the food and family, but perhaps we can set aside a moment to honor Squanto. They say that without him, there would be no Thanksgiving.
*“Ode to the West Wind,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792-1822.