November has a way of making me pine for the days back on the family farms of my childhood. This time of year seems bleak to me these days, on several levels. Summer, that most glorious of seasons, is over, and now autumn is in its death throes. Here in Maine, we all know what that means. At least five months of winter, maybe six.
Summer, with its seemingly endless sunshine, warmth, and over-all- mood altering-pleasantness, allows us to be more active, to enjoy our work and our play with a disposition that matches the brightness of the summer Sun. We here in Maine relish our summers. We recreate, we hike our gorgeous wilderness, woods, and valleys. We climb our beautiful mountains to exalt in the stunning views offered. We swim and fish in our lakes, rivers and ponds. We go camping to be closer to these spots for extended weekends or in many cases, for an entire week. We traipse off to the east to absorb the mind-blowing beauty of the sea, and find inner peace and harmony exploring the miles of rocky coast and the charming and quaint villages that Maine offers her natives as well as her guests. We can’t get enough summer.
But then autumn rolls in. At first, still quite warm, still lots of daylight, just a slight increase in the sharpness of the air quality and to the quality of the long range visibility. No more mugginess, no more haziness, no more sweating. The pesky summer bugs have, for the most part, departed this neck of the woods until next spring. A few short weeks into “fall”, the night air begins to get cooler, and then this glorious metamorphosis begins to happen-the water, the air, the skies, the woods and fields, and most especially, the leaves, begin to change in color. The clarity of this day-by-day evolution once again gets our senses on high alert. We gleefully visually ingest the striking, iridescent, kaleidoscopic colors, hungrily breath the fresh clean air a little deeper, and marvel at the pure beauty that our place to exist, offers us. We can’t get enough autumn.
Then, November rolls around. The trees are now bare, their leaves cast off, lying limp and brown. The waters of Maine take on a colder meaner look. The sea becomes downright angry. The landscape relapses into clinical depression. The wind decides to relentlessly remind us of what is to come, and then just to get into the spirit of the utter disparity of the season, we decide to get in on the action and punish ourselves a bit more. For some unfathomable reason we go and frig with the time and set the damn clocks back an hour. The only reason we don’t hate November more, is because what comes the next four months is even worse.
But… there was a day, back when I was growing up on the family farms, that November was a month that I welcomed. November was the month that we would work diligently finishing up filling the woodsheds and cellars with the winter’s supply of heat. There is nothing cozier than a wood fire blazing. The sight, sound, and smell, is therapy, and nothing provides such penetrating warmth while the wind whips and moans outside. We loved wood heat. November was also the month that we would finish stocking in the winter’s supply of foodstuff. Canned goods, preserves, bags of root vegetables, bins of potatoes, freezers stuffed full with meat that we raised and butchered ourselves, or hunted. All of this was something we looked forward to because it was such a great feeling of accomplishment and security when it was complete. We would be warm and well fed throughout the brutal winter months.
November was also the time when my family would take to the surrounding woods and fields, to recreate together in that time-honored tradition of hunting. Not only did we look forward to practicing and further learning the many generations of woodsman-ship and hunting skills that were passed down, we loved the bounty we would harvest. The game found in the forests of Maine is the most flavorful and naturally healthy meat I’ve ever eaten. We loved our venison and partridge (ruffed grouse).
Naturally, the culmination, the most anticipated event, the crowning glory of November, was Thanksgiving. What a day! What a meal! What incredible memories we made each year around the table in my grandparent’s kitchen in that old ramshackled farmhouse that continues to illicit such sweet memories for my parents and my own, generations. Life was much different back then. Partly because I was a kid, so life was much simpler, but also because life for everyone was simpler. There was, in my mind, a much deeper sense of community and family, and a much deeper sense of appreciation for each other, and for a simple but fulfilling lifestyle. We were farmers, and we were content with being what we were, who we were, and wanted little else.
Thanksgiving day, back then, would start like every day on the farm did…early. We would do the chores, tend to the livestock and animals, and then help the ladies with their chores so they could move on to preparing the meal. Typically we menfolk (and kidfolk) would get out of their way at this point and spend the next few hours hunting. The ladies would work together to prepare a meal fit for royalty, or a farm family. Keep in mind, they never had to worry about having to run to the store because they forgot some critical ingredient for one of the food dishes—everything on the table was home-grown and home-made. From the turkey we raised, to the ham we cured, along with the plethora of vegetables from our gardens, the butter from our churn-using milk from our cows, the wild raspberry preserves, the biscuits from my grandmothers oven, the pies and pie-crusts from that same oven, the milk we drank—or the cider—all came from the farms we owned and operated. We felt rich as kings. We moaned and groaned our appreciation while we enjoyed this feast, reveling in each others company and laughter, and absolute in our contentment of being part of something much bigger than any one of us individually. We loved our family holidays, Thanksgiving being our favorite because of what it stood for. It was the day we gave thanks and celebrated our commitment to a wonderful life and to each other.
This year, I won’t be celebrating this holiday with my family. Instead I will spend the day with some folks who deserve our thanks every day. I’m excited to have the privilege to honor and thank the residents of the Maine Veterans Home, here in Bangor, Maine. Who better to thank on this reverent day? I will help the staff set up for the feast, and then I will stand in front of these heroes, and I will tell them stories of the farm back in the day, and of Thanksgivings past…and honor them for their service, so my family could have the life we had, and for the freedoms and opportunities we still enjoy.
I hope each of you that honor me by reading this blog will make wonderful memories this Thanksgiving with your loved ones, and I urge you to spend part of that day reliving some sweet past memories of this holiday, and if you get the chance—salute a veteran and give thanks to him or her. Let’s all help with taking the bleak out of November for everyone.