A Time for Giving Thanks 26 Nov 2015

Last week it rained “cats and dogs,” or as some say, it was a real “frog strangler.” Six-and-a-half inches of rain fell at our house, and Nacogdoches recorded over seven inches. Around the area, homes flooded, streams overflowed their banks, and drivers in need of remedial driver education piloted their vehicles into the flood, stalled, and had to be rescued. But the day after the deluge skies cleared and fall vistas sparkled in newly washed grandeur. Thankfully, here at our home, we weathered the storm with no damage.

Although maniacal acts of barbarism have recently blighted the season, it is, nevertheless, Thanksgiving. It’s time, perhaps now more that ever, to slow down and get our lives into perspective with a little natural therapy, not that provided by medical professionals. Nature’s peace is free. The other kinds involve insurance policies, fees, and co-pays.

By 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day the moon will be full, and the sky will be filled with celestial signs of the season. The Pleiades star cluster (The Seven Sisters) are riding high in the eastern sky above and slightly to the right of Luna. Bright red Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull, is below them. Orion the Hunter, it’s shining star Betelgeuse, gleams to the right and below the moon. The Pleiades have long been used by the ancients as a sign of harvest season, and Orion an indicator of coming winter.

In a world of abrupt changes and jolts to our peace and tranquility, the constancy of the stars can provide a soothing balm, and an anchor in an increasingly violent and unstable world. In our lifetime, we’ll always be able to look to the night sky and see the same familiar patterns of stars. Some things never change.

This fall has been a little faded here in East Texas, mostly due to the dry period that preceded it. But, Thanksgiving can still give us a lift as leaves turn to gold. The trees’ internal “clocks” have shut down the production of chlorophyll, and as it fades the background colors it hid shine forth.

The Great-horned Owls in our woods seem almost frantic to proclaim their territory with their deep-toned hooting. As I write this it sounds as though there are at least three debating their rights. Mice and other small rodents are probably shivering in their skins, postponing their thanksgiving until the avian stalkers depart. In contrast, the owl calls to me speak of solitude and pleasant evenings. The only exception is the Native American belief that if you hear the owl call your name, death is at your doorstep. Thankfully, no owls have so far been able to pronounce mine.

The fall world seems to be pausing, waiting, patient and comfortable in its inactivity. Early fall, to a degree, is always thus, but today the air rested even more lightly, fragrantly, on the land, and the autumnal drowse was more pronounced, producing in me a similar mood. Unhurried and at peace, nature’s calm flowed into me, soothing and relaxing.

Nowadays however, everything about modern-day life seems to flow counter to the appreciation of nature’s gentle influences. We’re too caught up in the rat race of modern life. The intensity of our manic search for better, biggest, and best deprives us all, youth as well as adults, of rich experiences. We are constant seekers, but with no clear goals, either short-term or long, and in an unending quest, we too often lose the prize, not having caught even a glimpse of the treasures we never knew eluded us.

Our stresses build insidiously, gradually, subliminally, until finally full-blown, we feel crushed by them. We study, musicate, orate, athleticate, dance, and work at a pace that winds our mental and emotional springs to maximum tolerance, until at last on vacation, we work ourselves into another frenzy trying to unwind 50 weeks of tension in 2 weeks of accelerated, intense activity. Instead of the re-creation so needed, our recreation only heightens our dissatisfaction and misery. How sad.

Be very careful that you do not find, at the end of life, that you have never really lived at all, only existed. The fields and forests and the heavens above are not just biology and astronomy lessons, they are nature’s rest homes, replete with peace, tranquility, and relief from life’s inane rat race. Take advantage of them.

The world, uncaring, continues to spin and speed along its orbit. The days pass, the seasons change, but our stresses need not grow.

Count your many blessings and be thankful for life, freedom, family, health, safety, sufficient food, and shelter. The list, and I suggest you make one, is endless. Particularly be thankful for those who protect our safety and freedom, often giving their lives in that effort.

May your Thanksgiving be peaceful, fruitful, and thought provoking. Things could be much worse. Let’s pray they won’t be.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click paulrisk2@gmail.com to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.