Here in Canada, we had our Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago – in the United States, it will be next month. Our Thanksgiving Day is the same day as Columbus Day in the US which celebrates those ships sailing in with the conquistadors. Life was forever changed on Turtle Island and it is hard to mix thanks with what became the destruction of natives throughout the Americas. In both countries, Thanksgiving weekend implies a lot of destruction of pumpkins, football players and turkeys. Holidays in general have pretty much spun out of control with commercialization, expectation and general gluttony.
I keep my own spin on things and choose to enjoy these special days from the bright side of life. I don’t need these big moments to remember to give gifts, say thanks for my good fortune, or eat too much. However, I appreciate the opportunity holidays give us for getting together with friends and family. Particularly in this season when the air is starting to blow cold, gathering around a table of hot food nourishes the soul as well as our desire to seek warmth and start laying on the winter fat.
For years I was a strict vegetarian, but returned to a carnivore diet. I’ve grown lots of food naturally, fished local waters (though never hunted), milked goats and made cheese, baked bread after grinding the grains and patted tortillas after milling the corn, picked various kinds of fruit in orchards including the grapes that make the wine. My most recent gardening involves papayas, corn and bananas in the jungle on the hot Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
My conscience has dealt with the issues of eating organic and local, whether or not to eat meat or fish, to be a polite guest or a politically-correct one, how to grow food in spite of bugs, and whether vegetables too have rights. The answers to the big questions, as in all things, are both clear and elusive. I bumble along, doing my best, but if I let it, the worry and guilt of not always keeping to what I know is right in the politics of food would probably kill me. Instead, I just try to stay aware and be smart. I don’t need to hear the reasons, I know them. I just need to keep trying to live simply and continue walking softly on our earth.
Then there’s Thanksgiving! I admit to partaking in five scrumptious meals with close friends, long lost friends, and friends leaving on adventures – and readily agree that it might have been more than one person should consume. Sunday dinner was with my big pretend family, the Johnston-Poags. It was the biggest table with the biggest turkey, with all the wonderful traditional dishes that include each person’s favorite. There is a new generation, bringing their own likes and dislikes – the table will have to grow even bigger!!
My second turkey dinner was with friends in Toronto, some who I haven’t seen in years. The table came with the golden bird and many of the same vegetables, but everything was cooked different from the night before, including the stuffing. It was at my friend Deb’s house and included old friends Sally and Rob and their daughters, Robin and Clara. The family had just returned from years living in Halifax for a year’s schooling in Toronto.
We lived together in the north years ago, in these funky old log cabins in the bush. Sal and Rob are phenomenal artists, talented painters who have also built a number of large outdoor sculptures such as a memorial for miners in Kirkland Lake. They’ve passed on their talented souls to their daughters who are both destined to a life of creativity. Robin is at a performing arts school and they both are in the Canadian Opera Company’s children’s program. Although I haven’t seen them in years, we resumed what we always did as if no time had passed – ate Deb’s great food, talked a lot and laughed endlessly.
Two Toronto friends, Barb and Peter, also great visual artists, were also with us. Barb brought this incredible pumpkin cheese cake creation. When you think you can’t eat another bite, it’s a testament to the irresistibility of the food when you can’t stop yourself from eating more.
On the third night, I went out to Nvelte, to my friends Treeza and Rick, who were soon leaving for their second home in Guatemala. A third delicious turkey, a third stuffing, and new versions of different vegetables. It was really quite amazing that I ate all this food over three nights, and I swear no two dishes were identical, all just glorious homemade food cooked with lotsa love.
A Canadian who also lives in Guatemala, Bob, was there as well as our friend Gloria, the only one of us not about to be back in Central America quite soon. Out of respect, we kept our musings about warm weather and tropical treats to a minimum.
A fourth night I was with my old pals the Pepall brothers, Andy and Mike, along with Mike’s wife, Lisa and their kids. The Pepall’s and I met in the Temagami bush on the blockade in 1989, spending seven weeks at the bush camp together. Andy was just at the 20th reunion, which I didn’t get to, and brought some stories from Temagami for us. Looking at photos of the mist floating on that cold northern lake in the rising sun made me weep. It is a land I need to return to often for a dose of pine scent, wood smoke and loon songs. A dose of the Pepalls was almost as sweet as a trip north.
Another dinner was with another friend from the blockade, the woman who did the initial lay out for Walking with Wolf, Laurie Hollis-Walker. Along with her husband David and her longtime mentor in psychology, Dr. Harry Hunt, we continued the feeding frenzy. We also watched the show Survivor. I studied these funny but focused academics studying the social interactions of the participants. Laurie and I met in a Survivor kind of situation, along with those Pepalls and hundreds of other activists. She now teaches a life-altering course at Brock University – Eco-psychology – and is doing her doctorate work on the activists in the Californian redwoods.
This week of respectful but relentless gluttony was followed by several days of very humble and simple foods and then it was the International Day for Climate Change or 350 Day. I was the guest speaker that night at a fund-raising dinner at the Toronto Zoo for COTERC (Canadian Organization for Tropical Education and Rainforest Conservation). They have a remote biological station near Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and do important research on turtles.
It was a friendly, committed crowd full of very interesting people, including Peter Silverman, a well-known investigative journalist and ombudsmen from Toronto, and my always dynamic friend, Lynda Lehman, from Guelph.
Earlier that day, I drove my bike downtown to see what 350.day events were going on. I couldn’t linger long as I was leaving for Toronto, but I did manage to walk into a very interesting workshop at one of our local and smart food cafes, the Sky Dragon. Karen Burson, a woman I met on a dance floor recently, was hosting this discussion on the ever-increasing importance of eating locally and organically. We must pay attention to all stages of our foods, including how they are grown, where they are grown, how they are packaged, transported and then disposed of, including all that packaging. There was a table of green vegetables in front of me, brought from one of the local organic farms for their Saturday morning market.
Karen spoke the truth with passion and intelligence. I commend her and all folks like her who work daily for a healthier and therefore happier planet. I was sorry that I had to leave before people gathered to walk through Hamilton as they were doing all over the planet that day.
It was one more day to be giving grace for the bounty, our blessings, life. And appreciation for every wonderful person who fed me, hugged me, made me think, or kept me laughing in this, the season of thanks giving.