Ok, I’ve got a few more kinda unlikely things that – after I thought about them a bit more – I’m pretty thankful for.
Frank Church and the 1964 Wilderness Act
Frank Church was a US Senator from Idaho who served from 1957 to 1981 (he was elected when he was only 33; after serving in WWII he took advantage of the GI Bill to get a law degree from Stanford), and he was the Senate sponsor of the landmark bill that would ultimately preserve XXXXX acres of wild lands across the country. According to Senator Church’s testimony: “if it becomes law, this bill will have preserved for now and for generations unborn, areas of unspoiled wilderness…open to considerate use and enjoyment of all those who find in high and lonely places a refreshment of the spirit and life’s closest communion with God.” Ironically, the wilderness area that would ultimately bear his name (the 2.3M acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness that encompasses the Salmon River area) would not get formally designated for 16 more years, but at least he was able to know about that before he got pancreatic cancer and died at only 59.
Many of us have indeed have found considerable “refreshment of spirit” in America’s wilderness – the only such thing on the globe – and I am thankful that Frank Church was The Man on that.
Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk, and Alice Paul
It’s no secret that these three Titans of Activism changed the world for minority activism. I’ve fairly recently watched “Selma” (about King and the march to Selma), “Milk (Sean Penn’s portrayal of slain SF Mayor Harvey Milk, and “Iron Jawed Angels” (Hilary Swank portraying Alice Paul and her and her compatriots’ suffragette efforts in the early 1920’s) and have been stunned at the passion and fervor that these folks had to help provide a voice to their people. It’s all the more amazing to know that only 50% of our fellow ‘Mericans voted in the recent midterms, yet the likes of King, Milk, Paul, Mandela, and many others literally were willing to die demanding equal representation. As a privileged white male I have known nothing close to the discrimination that they were fighting for, but ultimately I feel – even as racial strife continues today – that I have benefitted from their sacrifices in terms of creating a more tolerant community (it may not seem like it at times, but seeing those movies is a reminder that we’ve come a long ways). Thanks for making a better society for us all.
John Jacob Astor
Who? It’s easy to say he’s the namesake of the famous Astoria hotel or the town on the Oregon coast, but recently I read the book “Astoria” and realized that John Jacob Astor was probably singlehandedly responsible for the development of the western US. Pretty much as soon as Lewis and Clark returned from their trip Astor was setting up 2 major expeditions to establish a trading foothold on the West Coast (North American beaver furs for Asian spices, across the Pacific) before the Brits did (and it was close; there’s a reason they call it “British” Columbia). He established one crew to sail down the length of South America, through the Drake Passage, and all the way back up to what is now Oregon, and also sent a Lewis and Clark-style overland expedition. Both were sort of successful; they made it, but not without losing a lot of men in harrowing circumstances (the sea-expedition had a tyrannical captain who didn’t care much about scurvy and forced several of his crewman to row to their death in the Columbia Bar, and the overland trip dallied too long in Montana and hit southern Idaho in early December….).
Though Astor’s ambitions were more mercenary than Lewis and Clark’s “voyage of discovery” I’m thankful that Astor had the ambition that in turn lit up the ambition of the rest of the country to originally colonize the West.
Oregon Trail Immigrants
Brother Paul turned us onto yet another great book called “The Oregon Trail” (by Rinker Buck) that’s a fun story of a modern-day Eastern city guy who decides that he’s going to buy a covered wagon and three mules for he and his brother to drive from Independence, MO to Oregon, in turn bouncing along 160 year old wagon ruts and clip-clopping down I-80. Once again I was blown away by the tales of hardship that those 1848-ish immigrants faced; if it wasn’t the weather or the increasingly-hostile natives it was having a kid get run over by a wagon or be feeling fine in the morning and be dead of cholera by evening. Another example of incredible – and in many cases misguided – fortitude that resulted in the development of the West that we now comfortably live, work, travel, and gaily recreate in. I’m thankful that they were willing to give that shit a go.
Interstate highway system
As I sit here in Ketchum, ID writing this 300 miles from home in Salt Lake where I came from for a 3.5 day visit, it is hard to imagine trying to make that happen on secondary roads. Like zillions of Americans, we traveled mostly on a freeway, and though we take that for granted, it doesn’t take too much travel outside the US of A to know that our interstate freeway system is pretty incredible.
An interstate freeway system was really the brainchild of President Eisenhower, who participated in the first Transcontinental Motor Convoy done by the US Army in 1919. It took 2 months to get from the White House to San Francisco, and it became a bit of an obsession for him for both commerce and -post WWII and in the early days of the Cold War – as an integral part of the defense program; it simply wouldn’t do to have an invasion (if the enemies made it across the oceans!) and not be able to get the army there in weeks (and it was a lot easier to justify taking some of the $25 billion needed from the dept of defense. The funds were authorized in 1956, and in 10 years they built 41,000 miles of freeways, that today enable us to eat fruits and veggies out of season (the average meal travels 1500 miles to your plate), gallivant a long ways for our recreation, drive far for our jobs, and indeed easily connect with far-flung family and friends for Thanksgiving.
Once again I got carried away, but I got a few more, so maybe – even though it’ll be well-past Thanksgiving, but I guess one can be thankful at other times than Thanksgiving? – I’ll do one more……