Friday, November 23, 2018

What I'm thankful for - part I

An eon or three ago Brother Paul and I spent Thanksgiving not eating turkey, but actually in Turkey (where they don’t have turkeys; at least, I don’t think so…).  At the time we were traveling with a couple of Norwegian women, and to celebrate we took them out to dinner and told them about our holiday:  the pilgrims, the harvest, blah blah.  To which they understandably asked:  “But the harvest typically ends well before your holiday, right?”   Well, yes, but….maybe pumpkins and decorative gourds still hang on, cranberries can be refrigerated, and stuffing seems to have an eternal life that’s akin to fruitcake.  We did tell our Norwegian friends about the importance of being together with family, and told them that we were going to try to call our parents the next morning; we knew that our folks would be at to our cousins’ house for dinner. 

We woke early and went to the post office and the call took longer to go through than we anticipated, and finally the worker there handed us the phone and we heard an English voice.  “Hello?  This is the US operator. I’m sorry, but the party you called rejected your call!”  Huh?  Rejected our call?!?!  WTF??!?   Apparently (we found out later) our parents had just left the party and my cousin got a bit flustered and told the operator that they weren’t there, and hung up.  And that was that.  We shuffled back to our hostel where the ladies were having breakfast and of course they asked if we’d had a nice time chatting with our parents, and we had to tell them that our extended family had rejected our call.  Somewhere in Norway are a coupla women who don’t think too much of American holidays.

However, I love Thanksgiving.  Since it’s 4 days it’s that much better than the 3-day Labor Day (which is….what?  Celebrating “labor?”) and Memorial Day, which – no offense to vets – seems to be sorta superfluous since there’s also Veterans Day.  If the 4th of July could be instead be “The first long weekend in July” that would make it better so it could never fall on a Wednesday, and while Christmas is nice and all the commercial frenzy surrounding it is a bit long and tiresome.  But Thanksgiving is long enough and really just focuses around socializing and indeed acts as a good reminder to give thanks for…whatever.  Which is almost always the Big Three:  Friends, Family, and Health.  And Ash and I are very fortunate in that we have a plethora of all.

But I also started thinking about the many other things that we all kind of have taken for granted that are pretty deserving of thankfulness.  Here’s a quick list of some random thoughts I had (scary!), in no particular order:

Trails:  Folks of our ilk spend a lot of time tromping around trails in the mountains, and most of those trails are OLD.  It’s my understanding that a huge chunk of the trails in our wilderness areas and national forest were created by young men working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program created during the FDR administration to employ people displaced by the Great Depression.  It paid $30/month and the workers had to send $25 of that back to their families.  Over 9 years it employed 3M people, and given the couple of memorable days I’ve had trail building, it was very much hard labor, and in those days was done in remote places with limited facilities. Thanks to the CCC for a gazillion miles of great trails!

National Parks  - “America’s Greatest Idea”  - Abraham Lincoln actually got the idea going with a thing called “The Yosemite Grant” that-  for the first time – set aside land for preservation and public use, and in 1872 Yellowstone was created, and with John Muir’s pressure Yosemite came next in 1890.  Today the national parks are somewhat notorious for overcrowding and I’ve often said that they are good sacrificial lambs that attract the hordes that otherwise would be spread across other beautiful areas, but the truth is that places like Yosemite, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, etc are not only some of the most insanely beautiful places on the planet, a  coupla miles from any trailhead usually offers up some of the nation’s best adventuring ever.  Thanks to the country for making national parks and monuments!

The GI Bill – huh?  Really?  The GI bill was another FDR deal that provided immediate rewards for all WW II veterans.  According to Wikipedia, it “included dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college, or vocational schools, low cost mortgages, and one year of unemployment compensation.”  All tax free, of course, and it continued through the Korean and Vietnam wars.  My dad took full advantage of this, getting a free MBA at Harvard that put him in a good position to have a fine career afterwards, and because so many of my peers’ grandfathers who served were probably able to take advantage of this and success tends to beget success, it may have played a significant advantage for many of us.

Unfortunately, however, this was basically a program for white males; while formally it was not limited to whites, the way the system was executed into the Jim Crow era blacks basically did not get this huge societal leg up, and unfortunately solidified the racial wealth disparity that continues to this day. 

The United States’ distant “island” status – Brother Paul gave Ashley and me a book called “Prisoners of Geography:  Ten Maps That Changed the World” and the ridiculously smart author makes a strong argument that the US’s global domination is fundamentally based on the fact that we are protected by most of our previous and potential enemies by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.  Germany was easily able to overrun France and England because they were right next door, but the Russians were able to overcome the Germans because the Baltic Plain that the German army had to cross was so long that the Russians had time to prepare for them and the German army was pretty worked by the time it actually made it to Russia.  But Russia itself has lots of borders with potential enemies and seems to always feel compelled to fight for them and gets itself spread thin across its vast distance, and its lack of a warm water port (Crimea) is a huge liability that it felt compelled to overcome. 

Likewise, Japan’s “relationship” with China and both of their “relationships” to both Koreas were intensified mostly due to the big cultural differences and the close proximity of them all.  But the US is so far from those formerly-bellicose nations that it could engage as it wanted, and while WWII and the Korean/Vietnam wars were bad for the US military they weren’t on our soil, so there weren’t civilian casualties and extensive bombing/devastation of US infrastructure the way most of EU and big chunks of Asia were.  Post-war those areas had to rebuild their country before they could rebuild their military, while the US just had to rebuild its military to…ahem…”make America great again.”  And the Middle East has been the battleground over the last few decades, again because of such radically different (and deeply-held) cultures with big discrepancies in resources that are virtually right next to each other. 

So while true patriots think that it’s simply been our country’s manifest destiny to be the most powerful country in the world, it may just be because we happen to be a long wet ways from history’s problem areas.  And I’m thankful for that. 

I’ve got a few more, but this is getting long enough for now….

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