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Inside the Outdoors: Reasons for Thanks Can be Many, and Simple

I'm a sucker for inspiring words. In a life where we can find plenty of cause to be disappointed and cynical, I'm always on the lookout for reasons to be hopeful and content. Words, spoken or written, sometimes point us in the direction of hope and contentment. I encountered a few such words while taking one of my frequent "strolls" around some favorite web sites. One of these destinations is the web site of the Duluth News-Tribune. I go there in part because the News gives lots of space to outdoors topics. Sam Cook, who covers the outdoor "beat," is a particularly good writer, both as a newspaper journalist and as the author of several books.

In addition to its features on outdoor subjects, from time to time the newspaper's outdoor section will print quotable quotes. Typically, they come from the lips or the pen of some well-known person with links to the outdoors. Aldo Leopold, for example, who was a towering figure in the conservation movement, and widely acclaimed as the father of modern ecology and wildlife management.

Some quotes are unattributed, leading me to suspect they may come from the mind of their star outdoor reporter, Sam Cook. One that struck me recently was encountered as I was doing the typical Thanksgiving encore, polishing off the homemade turkey noodle soup we'd made from the carcass of the 18-pound bird that had been the star of our feast. This quote was apropos of the holiday: "In the spirit of the season, sit quietly for a moment and be thankful for your life in the outdoors — frosted grasses, venison in the freezer, quiet paddles, good dogs, the Milky Way, mallards circling, a walleye nibble, moving water, old friends, spring peepers calling, and warm fires."

Before reading this, I had been wrestling with a mild funk, trying not to feel overwhelmed by a post-Thanksgiving weekend whose script looked like an impossible to-do list: holiday greenery to be hung over doors and windows; Christmas lights for the spruce tops in the window boxes; wrapping the small evergreens with burlap; rabbit-proofing the shrubs with wire fencing; installing a new mailbox. Thankful?!

Actually, I've come to see Thanksgiving as a holiday almost more pure and renewing than Christmas. If you can ignore the profit-minded merchants advertising for Black Friday shoppers — some going so far as to open for business Thanksgiving afternoon — this holiday's theme is really about appreciation. It's about appreciating those who are dear to us — including enduring our least favorite relatives — and appreciating the blessings that have come our way. Christmas, though still my favorite holiday, has been to a large extent hijacked by retail businesses, many of whose annual profitability is determined by the purchasing that people do for Christmas.

So there I was, just a couple of days after Thanksgiving, dwelling on burdens and obligations instead of blessings. But why? After all, hadn't I put off some of these to-do's in order to spend more time in duck blinds, and to wade autumn trout streams? Hadn't I tasted some of the best things that the Midwest out-of-doors has to offer, not only in autumn, but all year long? Didn't I spend lots of quality time training the hunting dog in my life? Hadn't my son and I experienced new heights of fishing adventures together?

Besides, as the quote above suggests, it's not just the big adventures and exotic places that give us reason to be thankful. It's an unexpected glimpse of northern lights, or witnessing the biggest moon to be seen in almost three-quarters of a century. It's gratitude for 40 years of your spouse putting up with your fondness for shotguns, fishing rods, training dummies, wood smoke, and the smell of wet dog hair.

Gratitude, too, for an enduring hunting and fishing companionship of almost equal duration to that of my marriage; a friendship so durable that we could spend three days together on the eve of the most bitter election in recent memory, and yet speak not one syllable about it — despite the fact that we are on opposite sides of the political fence. That's a friendship.

Lots to be thankful for, and important to remember that it's a virtue to be practiced year-round, not just on the last Thursday in November.