Gratitude is no accident

Last week, going through the drive-through of my usual coffee shop, I noticed that they were opening at midnight for black Friday. I was dismayed.

Thanksgiving might be the best American holiday on a conceptual basis, but in execution it is riven through with that which makes our culture sick.  Commercialism, meat-head athletics, and hurry: it’s stupid to ask a large percentage of the populace to travel so far in so little time, in the northern hemisphere and during the prelude to winter.  It’s absurd that fans of football have yet to be marginalized in the same way boxing was years ago, and continuing to advance purchasing sprees as a healthy form of family bonding is a rather egregious way of ignoring the lessons of the last five years.

On the evening of Thanksgiving itself M and I went over the last decade of holidays, with several memories easily standing out.  In 2003 I was in the field for a particularly cold 10 day wilderness therapy stint, struggling with missing M and a particularly obnoxious and inept co-worker.  In 2005 we went canyoneering, shot guns, and made a dutch oven chicken with friends deep in the Robber’s Roost.  In 2008 and 2009 we went snowshoeing and bison-watching in Yellowstone, and last year we were in Hell’s Canyon.

All this reflection got me thinking that in spite of living in Montana for over four years, we both still identify first as desert rats.

Those early years of adult, married independence remain talismanic because we had so few responsibilities.  Living in Moab, in our truck, or even for our two year in Prescott we had no debt, and still a limited sense that what we were doing then was not only directly linked to our adult future: it was already our future.  Now I have a graduate degree and am over 30, and I see the weight of everyday decisions more clearly, irrespective of their seriousness.  It is easier to see such things as dire this time of year, when the fickle Montana weather has not yet given itself over to winter, and when we know the crystal skies of the desert away south are at their most potent.  No grass there, but in memory still greener.

Being able to take and post this last week’s photos comes with a cost.  I’m not ready to buy the sticker just yet, but I’ve developed some righteous anger which bubbles up when luck is suggested as a factor in my presence, here, and now.

I am lucky that I was born into a family which valued education and had enough means to enroll me in scouts and clubs when I was growing up, and to send me to college.  I am not lucky that I live and work within sight of the best backpacking in the lower 48.  Living here is but the latest logical consequence resulting from a string of choices.  I have two degrees, neither picked for their ability to earn much money.  The graduate schools to which I applied five years ago were severely geo-restricted, and my unwillingness to consider a name-brand school in St. Louis or Ann Arbor will doubtlessly continue to hamper my earning ability for the next half-century.  I’ve turned down several juicy promotions over the years, either because they would have involved staying in a undesirable place longer, or because the added burden on my time would not have been well enough compensated.  I turned my back on the for-profit sector, likely for good, because mental health care (and health care generally) is not something anyone should profit over.

As a result we live in a peculiar backwater, with student loan debt, and I make a fair bit less than I did before I had a second degree.

I wish more of my undergrad classmates had made similar choices.  I wish my culture valued contentment and meaning, and not just mere happiness.  I wish fewer people lived a thousand miles removed from their passions.  I wish it were easier for me, inexorable product of my times, to remember that meaning cannot be purchased via things.

Therefore I am thankful for climatic diversity close at hand, and all the small variety that comes with it.  I am grateful for the fresh tracks of charismatic, carnivorous megavertebrates.  I am grateful for topographic variation, and for being able to drive east and up out of the rain and into the snow.  I am grateful for fate, the kindness of others, and the opportunities both these things have given me.  I am grateful for myself, and for the choices I have made.

Why are you grateful?

6 responses to “Gratitude is no accident”

  1. I am grateful for the good fortune I have had to enjoy the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Living, as I do, “a thousand miles from my passion”, I am also grateful that I can see it through your eyes by the your photography and enjoy by reading your postings those things which I will never have enough time or the good fortune of doing.

  2. I’ll tell you what i’m grateful for: the smarts to figure out what needed done to make my life worth living, the strength to see it through, the stubbornness for when strength was not enough, and the support of those closest to me. Take away any of those four and I’d be in a very bad place, instead of on the cusp of a very good one.

  3. The AP ran a rather nice piece about Black Friday Eating Thanksgiving. Basically, a dire commentary on the value of bargain shopping over family and friends. It’s really disheartening to sit in a traffic jam on the interstate when you know someone ahead of you is being extracted from their crumpled car. I did just that yesterday. I’m thankful I wasn’t in that accident. I’m also ashamed to admit I was one of those people driving across 3 midwest states to visit my aging grandmother who doesn’t travel any longer. Unfortunately, the place I was captive in for 3 days is a hopeless backwater that seems to have given up on life. All of these experiences underscore the preciousness of the short lives we have to live. It sounds selfish to complain about the travel and awful places we go for family, but there’s a reason my immediate family plucked me from that place so early. Unlike you Dave, I have played conservative and stayed in a place too long for my own good and now have 2 degrees w/ subsequent decreases in salary every year since their acquisition. I’m bitter at times, but thankful that I have food, shelter, and love. I get by on periodic trips west and to the woods of the Ozarks. The Bumper Sticker is the prize my eye is fixed on, but the minor skirmishes put chinks in my armor that I fear will cost me the battle. The cliched use of “luck” doesn’t fit my lexicon, but I do believe in serendipity and its resultant riches. While I feel that hard work will pay off and fish can’t be caught without a line in the water, I do find that a certain alignment of stars and circumstance are the only break we get sometimes. Some people pray, some people hope and others wait motionless for the “big break”. It’s all we got at times. Thanks for another thoughtful piece.

  4. Cheers folks, thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Cheers, great post and comments. Black Friday should be recognized for what it is, death. A global capitalism built on fabricated desire and conspicuous consumption is producing new values and ethics that are displacing more traditional ones of community and family. I noticed this as a teenager in the 80s. I remember the first year that the movie theater opened on Xmas, and how each year it seemed to open earlier in the day. And how now more stores are opening and drawing people’s attention, so that now the holidays are nothing more than binges of shopping (Tday) and thing-worship (Xmas).

    For my own Tday, my wife and I and our two young kids squirreled away in a small A-frame near Lake Tahoe. On the actual day we took our kids on a cool little hike up to some granite where water was flowing and a nice waterfall was gushing. It was quiet, the noise of our own urban lives vanquished for a minute. … Our poor deprived kids, their parents won’t get out at midnight to buy a tickle me elmo or some dumb video game!

    Love the blog, going to be coming back regularly.

  6. […] is not a coincidence that any of us were there that afternoon.  Recreating isn’t the only thing worth living for, […]

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