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November, 2014

'Tis the Season to Be Thankful

by Larry

My mother's best friend for many years, a sharp, funny lady, always interested in others, now has Alzheimer's Disease and can understand or recall little that she had known before. Reminded me of my brother who died at age 38 and of a lesson for those who knew and loved him, to be appreciative of our present moments, to make the most of our lives and time. There are, after all, no guarantees of future returns.

I was teaching a pair of second grade girls about plants today, part of their reading lesson. Their enthusiasm was keen, but they were about as distractible as new puppies. Of course, the lesson here was mine, to be as little children. I am grateful that I do not always act my age. Also that my models for that maxim are "all above average."

A Chinese curse, it is said, goes something like: "May you live in interesting times." Paradoxical, ironic. Who would want to live in boring times? I am thankful for the times in which we live. I was born in the midst of the Second World War, the worst conflict Homo sapiens had ever experienced or unleashed. Despite its horrendous nature, it ended after only about five years. We can be thankful for new chances, the ability of species to adapt and begin afresh from the debris of what came before.

Following that cataclysm, people said we would blow ourselves up via atomic or hydrogen bombs, as the temperature hostilities commenced: first the Cold War, then a predicted hot one. They said too we would bear so many children that one could call it an explosion, followed soon by massive destruction and death. We may be subsisting on borrowed time, by the skin of our teeth, but life goes on.

I am grateful for the eons of single-celled wee beasties that preceded us over about 90% of the epoch of life on Earth, and for the evolution of blue-green algae that loaded our atmosphere with a waste product we now call "oxygen." It turned our skies from a hellish red-orange to a more gorgeous hue and allowed the development of multi-celled creatures like me and you.

And thankful for the founders of a fruit company, Apple, and its prime competitor, Microsoft, for the greater part of a digital revolution, transforming our modern world in ways that, as a sort of technophobe, I resisted, but from which I and all whom I know have immensely benefited.

It is hard now to imagine what life must have been like only a century or two ago. Have heard it is thousands of times more stimulating to be alive today than two or three hundred years past, much less a millennium or two before. Scientists tell us the modern human brain is currently a bit different, but that folks 10,000 or 50,000 years previous to us were mostly like ourselves. They had challenges as well and must have found things quite interesting enough. In certain climes, large crocodiles, monitor lizards, pythons, or numerous and venomous snakes co-existed with these earlier people, while in others saber-toothed tigers, giant wolves, mammoths, and successive ice ages prevailed in humankind's pre-history. Along with these, unchecked diseases, short life spans, and the occasional extended drought, without the benefit of irrigation, much less central air and heat, must have kept things humming. Yet our predecessors' line survived. They got their chances at existence, as did we, thanks in part to a huge asteroid that ultimately allowed mammals to get bigger and conspicuous and to become the new dominant type of large animal living on the third rock from the Sun, that instead wiped out the majority of the dinosaurs, all but their avian cousins, ancient creatures that likely looked a lot like chickens but probably had small forelimbs instead of wings and toothy, elongated snouts instead of bills.

With a few significant exceptions, such as Adolf Hitler, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and the Ebola virus, I am appreciative of imperfections. Cosmologists tell us that if not for an ever so slightly imperfect big bang origin of the universe and of its early expansion in the first trillionths of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, neither we nor a multitude of galaxies would be here. All would be uniform sameness essentially forever in all directions. Instead, we live in far more interesting times. Reason enough to be grateful.

I am thankful for incredible luck, to have been born into this age and not human-trafficked or addicted to one or another substances that might have ruined my days and nights, to have been born in the U.S.A., to two parents who cared for me well and reared me to know certain values and who provided me with a ready-made household of friends, seven great siblings each with a cool personality and way of adapting to this realm of existence. I am so grateful for my talented, creative wife, Valerie, and the relatives whom merging my life with hers has brought into an ever expanding extended family of cool folks.

Appreciative I am as well for many fine companions with whom to swing along on this journey of uncertain duration.

As I explore or photograph our country's rivers, national parks, thick forests, lakes and streams, vast expanses, stupendous night and day view skies, ocean edges, wildlife, mountains, and valleys, they could not, it seems to me, be more beautiful, and I am immensely pleased to be able to share this lovely land.

In 1620 a band of people set sail from England in a ship known as Mayflower. The survivors would go on to begin this now annual tradition of Thanksgiving. Yet roughly half of those who commenced that voyage perished on the trip over or before the end of their first winter in America. In our own lives, complacence may not be in order over the difficulties ahead or the odds of success. Ultimately, of course, we shall each cease to be, as will one day all whom we have known, our own kind, this pearly world, the Sun, and the Milky Way. For now, though, we persist, curious, funny, ornery, brilliant, contradictory, childlike, obstinate creatures that we are, and for that I am very thankful.

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