Across Canada last weekend, we celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday which coincides with the autumn harvest of apples, pumpkins, and various kind of squash — acorn, butternut, red kuri — which I slice open and season with herbs to roast in the oven, then whip into smooth buttery soups on the stove.
Thanksgiving is scheduled slightly after the first frost, as if on purpose, when summer’s old leaves are shocked overnight into brilliance. Smears of orange, golden, and red flame out along the highway, as though the landscape is on fire — a warm, controlled glow which we comfortably bask in behind the protective windows of the car on our drive to the cabin for Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s the season of pick-your-own apples, and pumpkin patches, of hand-knit sweaters, and crunching through leaves with your new shoes on. Of early evenings and chilly mornings, of Saturday mornings soaked with syrup and pancakes, and Sunday afternoons streaming with soft-shadow light.
The world has not stopped, but it has slowed, and I consider that this richness in taste and colour and light is complemented, never muted, by its extremes.
The fiery red of sumac against the green of pine.
The flutter of golden poplar against the orange of oak.
These illuminated, ephemeral leaves growing over Precambrian rock of the Canadian Shield.
I like that Thanksgiving follows the seasonal harvest: it seems fitting to give thanks for the feast of the season before us. In our family of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, greats and grands, we sing “Johnny Appleseed” around an extended table heavy with turkey cranberry stuffing salad potatoes gravy later pie, decorated with leaves of red orange yellow on a skyblue tablecloth.
I planned to walk the forest trails this Thanksgiving until I came to the place where the rock dropped off and the trees opened up to a view of the lake below, the hills flecked with colour, each tree a dot in a pointillism painting.
But instead, I hauled logs with my brothers up the rocky ground to the cabin, where the wood would be split and used as firewood in a season or two.
As I worked, I was surrounded by trees, many of them damaged or felled from a tornado that tore through these forested acres a year ago. A fire was now burning brush in the firepit a few feet away. I breathed deeply the smell of leather work gloves, pine needle smoke, and the sweetness of sawdust. I heard the muted sounds of a chainsaw biting through hardwood through my ear protection muffs. I tasted the iron of the earth when I drank the cool water hand pumped from the well.
My senses were consumed by — and were consuming — the forest, but I didn’t actually see the trees again until I was driving back home in the late afternoon along that same road that led to the highway which I’d taken the day before, a road lined with trees in all their glory.
It occurs to me now that, having been surrounded by trees, I hadn’t really seen them at the cabin, even in the midst of carrying their weight in my arms, the memory of them living in my muscles the day after, and living still the day after that.
When I think of Thanksgiving, this reverse analogy of “can’t see the forest for the trees” is fitting: for it’s hard to be thankful in the midst of — even when your senses are almost assaulted by — the beauty surrounding you.
Sometimes, it’s easier to see the beauty of trees by the afternoon light of a lowering sun, the brightness giving way to reflection.
Question: As a writer, how do you appreciate beauty in the midst of life?