The year is 1621. It is fall, and the bright bluebird days of summer have given way to gray skies that float on the gathering winds. Winter lies ahead.

It is the end of the growing season, and the colonists have harvested their crops, caught lobsters and plucked mussels from the shallows and tide pools lining the Atlantic Ocean. They killed ducks and geese, picked cranberries, grapes, plums and flint corn. Their neighbors, the Wampanaog Indians, killed five deer and presented them to the Pilgrims.

Together, they set a table, bowed their heads and, along with 90 or so Indians, the 52 colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts, gave thanks.

It was that meal historians believe was the first American Thanksgiving. It took place sometime between September and November and was described in a December 1621 letter that colonist Edward Winslow wrote to a friend.

Farmers know how humbling nature can be. Even the best-looking crop can be destroyed in a matter of moments by hail or wind, pests or even rain.

"It doesn't matter until it's in the bin," many a farmer has said, knowing that the lottery called harvest time depends on too many variables to count.

When it's in the bin - or the elevator or the processing plant - farmers and their families around the world celebrate.

Harvest festivals abound in many cultures, from Erntedank in Germany and Austria to China's Harvest Moon Festival, which dates back 3,000 years.

It is a time when most cultures acknowledge the bounty the earth offers.

In the 19th century, a magazine editor promoted Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the fourth Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving.

So what's to be thankful for? Some Americans may ask that question. For many, the past few years have been unlike any in recent memory. For others, who have been through the dark times of the Depression and the challenges of World War II, this recession is less than dire. But as unemployment lines have grown and paychecks have shrunk, many Americans find themselves struggling financially.

While some in agriculture have also been caught in the economic downdraft, others have found ways to avoid it, or minimize it.

Yet there is still plenty for which to give thanks. Anyone needing an accounting of those blessings need only look around the dinner table. The happy chatter of children, the excited talk among adults. The dreams and wishes that float through the air like balloons - each is a gift from above.

To be sure, all is not roses these days. Our political leaders have fallen short as the economy has fallen flat.

Yet we do give thanks - for family and friends, and for a great nation that will soon rise again.

In the tradition of the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors, let us give thanks this week for those and other blessings too numerous to count.

Carl Sampson is the managing editor of the Capital Press.

 

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