Thanksgiving – We are All Connected

On Thanksgiving step outside and share your gratitude.

This Thanksgiving I am mindful that people are part of nature not separate from it. Everything on Earth is worthy of our reverence and gratitude.

A few weeks ago, after an inspirational morning at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in California, I knew that I wanted to write about the interconnectedness of nature (yes that includes people) for my Thanksgiving post this year.

It all began with a bowl of oatmeal.

But, before we get to the oatmeal, a bit of background may be useful.

My home is on the California Central Coast in the midst of one of the few remaining swaths of Monterey pine forest. Before we bought our home, the mostly wild yard had been untended for years so invasive plants had been encroaching unimpeded and some plants that had been purposefully planted had gotten out of control. Somehow, I got the possibly ridiculous and crazy idea in my head that we could restore our tiny piece of land and then it could encourage the neighboring land to go native.

With limited knowledge, a shovel and some clippers I set about removing the few invasive plants that I could identify. The flip side of invasive plants is native plants, which I am trying to learn about so we can encourage natives growing in our yard and plant others.

So, when I read about an upcoming event called the Chumash Kitchen at the botanical garden, I signed up my spouse and me. We were excited to have an opportunity to learn about native plants from two Chumash women (Jeanette and Violet) who are descendants of the people who have been living on the California Central Coast for thousands of years and we were looking forward to tasting some dishes made from locally foraged and harvested foods.

The Chumash Kitchen

The day was warm with just a slight chill and the skies were cloudy and gray.

We arrived just in time for breakfast. I was somewhat dismayed to find that breakfast was oatmeal (I think it had ground acorns, too) because I seriously dislike oatmeal and have since I was a little kid. Not to be deterred from fully participating, I ladled a small portion into my bowl and topped it with several heaping spoonfuls of cut up local apple pieces. I was thankful to see there was coffee and poured myself a mug.

Group Photo Beneath Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA
Group Photo Beneath an Ancient Oak Tree in El Chorro Regional Park, San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After breakfast, the group headed out for a hike up to a sacred Chumash site. Along the way, one of the young participants introduced us to an oak tree that she and others had gathered acorns under two days before. At a magnificent and ancient oak tree, we stopped to admire its beauty and sense of history and to pose for a group photo.

Sacred Grinding Stones

A short uphill hike brought us to a small open area with huge boulders embedded in the ground. Scattered across the boulders were round indentations that had been created by the Chumash people who had been grinding acorns here for thousands of years. This is a sacred site for the Chumash people who live here now and we were asked not to take photos of the stones.

By now, we were all warmed up and feeling fortunate that the cloudy sky was keeping the sun from beating down on our heads.

Jeanette began speaking of thankfulness and history and telling stories in a quiet and melodious voice. I remember her looking up at the cloudy sky, smiling, and saying, “The Mother is smiling on us this morning.” or something very close to that. What a delightful way of expressing gratitude for clouds.

View Looking Away from Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA
View Looking Away from the Sacred Chumash Grinding Stones near Eagle Rock Nature Trail in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

While Jeanette was speaking, Violet circumnavigated the group carrying a smoldering bunch of white sage. She paused at each person and using her hand wafted the smoke over us. This simple act seemed to connect us all even though many of us did not know each other. I came away with the understanding that white sage is honored for its healing qualities and is used for blessing people.

Before making our way back down the hill, we were each given the opportunity to make an offering by placing a small pinch of tobacco leaves into one of the grinding holes and saying a prayer (out loud if we wanted to). My prayer (said silently) was that my children and everyone else’s children would have a habitable planet to live on in years to come.

Oak Trees and Acorns

Back at the garden event center, while Violet and a small contingent of volunteers were preparing lunch in the kitchen, we learned about the history of oak trees over thousands of years and Jeanette entertained us with stories.

Acorns were and still are an important food for Chumash people. We learned from Jeanette that some acorns are always left under the oak trees for those who do not speak. She referred to people, plants, trees, and animals as her kin. Hearing her speak with such respect and reverence for every living thing struck a chord in me. It feels right.

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden Volunteers Preparing Acorns
Volunteers of All Ages Preparing Acorns for the Meals to be Served at the Chumash Kitchen Event – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
A Locally Foraged and Harvested Lunch

Before the lunch meal was served, Violet described the locally foraged and harvested ingredients and how they were prepared. I admit that once the mouth-watering plate of food was placed in front of me, I could not remember everything that had gone into making it.

I do remember a few things like the silky feel of the acorn gravy that had been ladled over a stuffed and roasted acorn squash. The Manzanita vinaigrette was tart and fragrant. Who knew you could make salad dressing from a Manzanita plant? The sautéed greens looking suspiciously like kale were tasty with a sort of acidic twang. I think ancient Chumash people probably did not have ice cream, but it was delicious melting on top of an apple crumble made with local apples and garnished with acorn dust.

The gathering ended with a traveling song. Feeling replete and uplifted we headed home.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

The reverence and gratitude that Violet and Jeanette had expressed for, well, everything stayed with me. So did the way they had spoken of the non-human members of nature as their kin and neighbors.

I frequently talk to trees, houseplants, and the variety of animals wandering and flying through our yard. However, I do not think I was conversing with them as peers, neighbors, or potential allies.

During the week following the event, I knew that something had shifted in my relationship with nature when I found myself apologizing to the ice plant that I was removing from my yard because it was choking out everything else. Another day, when a big buck deer wandered into the yard while I was working, I politely asked him if he would come back later. As he sauntered away, I could almost hear him thinking, “I was just passing through anyway.” When I noticed that somebody was living beneath and chewing on the roots of our lion’s tail plant, I suggested to the unseen neighbor that we try to work things out (the jury is still out on that one).

Although I do not fully understand how the diversity of life on Earth makes Earth, well, Earth, I do believe that everything connects somehow. People do not have dominion over nature we are part of it.

This year, I propose that we enlarge our gratitude circle beyond the family and friends gathered around our Thanksgiving tables to the whole of nature.

On Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to step outside for a few minutes or a long time and give thanks to a tree, a bird, a spider, a flower, a lake, a plant, or a mountain. How do you give thanks to a tree? It is up to you. Perhaps with a gentle hug, a prayer, a gift of water, listening, or just saying thank you. You get the idea.

“I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.” – David Suzuki

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featured Image at Top: Give Thanks in Block Letters with Fall Leaves, Acorns, and Pine Cones – Photo Credit iStock/jenifoto

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Can Spreading Happiness Save the World?

Anyone can spread happiness and kindness, it’s up to you.

I know this may sound crazy or silly but I believe spreading happiness and kindness could indeed help us save our planet and this is why.

Earth is struggling to survive and so are people. There is no planet B and even if astronomers discover one tomorrow, evacuating over 7.5 billion people and billions of other living creatures is way beyond our current technology, resources, and money. Working together to live sustainably on Planet A our Earth seems like a practical idea.

Whom do you think will succeed? People who love, respect, and care for each other or people who hate, demean, and harm each other? My money is on the first group.

Let us say you agree but you feel increasingly disturbed by the constant cascade of depressing, sad, and hateful news. The urge to turn away, to escape, or give up can be very strong. When problems seem vast and insurmountable, you can feel overwhelmed, powerless, and hopeless.

You are only one person. What could you possibly do that would make a positive impact?

Okay, so here is the crazy silly part.

You can choose to shine a light in your little corner of the world by spreading some happiness and kindness. I know this is not an earth-shattering concept but sometimes if you are stuck in neutral or frozen like a deer in the headlights you just need a nudge to get going again.

My nudge came in a yellow envelope.

The Happiness Sprinkling Project

Happiness Sprinkling Project Newsletter, Sticker, and You Rock CardIn early August, I received a bright yellow envelope in the mail with a circle on the front embracing the words “enjoy today.”

The envelope contained a newsletter, a “Sustaining Happiness Ambassador” sticker, and a business card with the words “You Rock!”

That card immediately brought a smile to my face and unbeknownst to me planted a seed in my mind, which turned into an idea about six weeks later.

The idea will make more sense to you if I digress and tell you about the source of the envelope, which was from Laura Lavigne who runs the Anacortes Center for Happiness and its Happiness Sprinkling Project.

My introduction to the Happiness Sprinkling Project occurred while I was serving on the Board of Directors of an environmental and social justice nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo, CA called Ecologistics.

I challenge you to say the word sprinkling without smiling. Here is what the project is about very briefly.

Picture yourself getting ready to cross the street on your way to a job interview feeling nervous and scared or sitting in your car at a streetlight feeling depressed and sad because you just found out a friend passed away or riding your bike down the street after an especially stressful day.

Suddenly you look up and spot a group of people standing on the corner wearing yellow shirts and holding up big signs that say things like “You Rock!” “It’s Going to Be Okay” and “You Are Delightful.” Chances are you would smile and feel your spirits lift even if just for a moment. You might even be inspired to pull over, park, and join the group or stop on the sidewalk for a hug.

People Wearing Yellow and Holding Encouraging Signs - Happiness Sprinkling Project
People Wearing Yellow and Holding Encouraging Signs – Photo Credit Happiness Sprinkling Project

These yellow-garbed happiness ambassadors are sprinkling happiness and kindness and so can you and me. Here is what I am doing.

Happiness Sprinkling for Shy Introverts

The chances of me organizing a Happiness Sprinkling event where I live are infinitesimal unless I wake up some morning transformed into a totally different person, meaning an outgoing extrovert who thrives on trying to get people to volunteer to do something.

Since a personality transformation has not been forthcoming, I have been musing about what I could do to sprinkle some happiness in my neighborhood.

After weeks of staring at the “You Rock!” card I had pinned on the bulletin board next to my computer, I had an idea. I could do a happiness sprinkling project right in my own yard.

We live in a small town and the street our house is on leads from the main thoroughfare (aptly named Main Street) up a steep hill to other roads and quite a few houses. We get a fair amount of traffic going past our house as people drive to and from work or just go about their daily routines. A few hardy souls walk past on their way to or from Main Street.

My idea was to revamp one of the signs we had made for the March for Science and stick it in my yard to cheer up passersby. My spouse was enthusiastic and being a person who likes engineering and building stuff suggested a weatherproof sign holder that could withstand the fog and wind that frequents our house.

Now that I had roped my spouse into the project, my vision expanded into being able to change the sign periodically so we could display different messages. Project managers will instantly recognize this as scope creep.

My spouse constructed a sturdy sign holder completely out of materials we had on hand from other projects; and created the first sign printing it on three pieces of letter-size copy paper (this part was tricky).

We scouted a suitable location in our yard. I weeded the area while my spouse pounded in a couple pieces of rebar. We slid the sign over the rebar and took a photo.

Green Groundswell You Rock Yard Sign

I may never know if anyone actually notices the sign or if it brightens anyone’s day but odds are that at least a few people will crack a smile, laugh, or tell someone else that there is a nut job living down the street with a sign that says “You Rock!” in their yard.

As much as I like the sign holder my spouse made, I would have been happy with my original idea, too. The important thing for me is that I took action and did something to sprinkle a tiny bit of happiness in my neighborhood and so can you.

You Can Sprinkle Happiness, Too

Sprinkling some happiness is within everyone’s power. It can involve wearing yellow or signs, but it does not have to. There are countless opportunities every day to be kind to another person and spread some happiness. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices started.

Let the person behind you in the grocery market checkout line go in front of you even if they have a lot of items. Smile at the people you pass on the street or in the hall and say “Good Morning.” Volunteer to take out the trash even though it is not your job. Engage in a conversation with someone who does not share your view on a particular topic. Listen to an excited coworker talk about their kid’s school play even though you have a deadline to meet.

You get the idea.

Let’s go sprinkle some happiness.

Reader Note: Neither the Happiness Sprinkling Project or Ecologistics solicited this post. They will find out about my project when I email them the link to this post.

Featured Image at Top: Yellow Happy Face Ball Surrounded by Blue Sad Face Balls – Photo Credit Dreamstime/Pablo Scapinachis

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