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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All are Welcome at Our Birdbath

Everyone is worthy of being welcomed.

Birdbaths receive a wide range of visitors 24/7 making them intriguing venues for observing community dynamics and how to get along with others.

Of course, not all birdbath visitors are polite and friendly all the time, but everyone has a chance to get a drink of water, take a bath, chat with their neighbors, search for food nearby, or just hang out. Adding to the fun and diversity of interactions is that not all birdbath visitors are actually birds.

While I was writing Birdbaths Attract Birds to Your Yard, it occurred to me that besides being beautiful and engaging to watch, birdbath visitors provide ongoing demonstrations of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise.

Below are several photos and a few stories illustrating that all visitors are welcome at our birdbath and are usually well behaved.

Our yard is mostly wild and our birdbath draws visitors from the surrounding forest in which we live on the California Central Coast. If you have a birdbath in your yard, your visitors will likely be different from ours but we may have some in common, too.

Small and Medium Feathered Birdbath Visitors

By far, small to medium sized birds represent the largest percentage of our birdbath visitors from hummingbirds to crows.

Although we do not have birdbath hours posted, birds tend to come early in the morning or late afternoon. Generally, if more than one species of bird is visiting they will take turns with one group bathing and drinking while the other birds perch nearby on a bush or a tree branch. Sometimes birds of different species will share the birdbath especially if they are more interested in getting a drink of water than bathing.

Once the crows discovered our birdbath, they began bringing foodstuffs and tools when they visit. Crows are smart collaborative birds. They use water to soften dry bread pieces and other desiccated food bits and employ twigs and pebbles to open shells or to pry bark off dead trees to expose bugs.

Large Feathered Birdbath Visitors

Wild turkeys and turkey vultures are now regulars at our birdbath, but it was not always so.

One day a few years ago, I heard a noise outside of our home office and I thought, “That sounds like a turkey.” I got up and looked out the window and sure enough, it was a turkey making gobbling sounds as it cruised through our yard pecking and scratching the ground to turn up bugs.

It was not until the height of the drought that we began to see a flock of turkeys frequently visiting and drinking out of our birdbath. Turkeys are not big flyers but a few times, I have seen several turkeys fly up to stand on the rim or actually in the birdbath to get a drink while their relatives on the ground jostle for position around the basin.

Most afternoons, you can spot turkey vultures flying the ridge over our house but it took a couple of years for an adventurous one to try landing on our birdbath to get a drink.

Turkey vultures are large birds with 6-foot wing spans. They have bald red heads and large hooked beaks suitable for tearing off chunks of road kill making them unattractive birds, that is, until you get know them. The turkey vultures do not hassle other birds at the birdbath. They wait patiently up in one of the trees and then swoop down when it is empty.

Usually, the turkey vultures grab onto the edge of the birdbath, take several gulps of water, and then hurl themselves into the air. One day I looked out the window to see a turkey vulture standing in the middle of the dry (oops) birdbath. It was as if he or she was nonverbally saying, “Excuse me, could I please have some water?”

Furry Birdbath Visitors

There is no fence enclosing our yard so all manner of local furry inhabitants traverse it looking for food, shade, and occasionally partaking of the fresh water in our birdbath.

Various neighborhood cats visit our yard periodically to hunt for voles or field mice and perhaps with hopes of catching a bird unawares (fortunately, they never have). One hot day, I spotted this gray cat leaping up into the birdbath for a drink of water.

California mule deer are frequent visitors especially throughout the wet months when our yard is lush with grasses, perennial plants, and wildflowers. During the dry months, the deer visit to hang out and eat what food they can find.

At the height of the drought, we noticed an increase in birdbath traffic and for the first time, spotted a deer drinking from our birdbath.

Likely, other furry visitors such as raccoons, possums, and skunks visit our birdbath at night when we are asleep.

In the ten years, we have lived here, our birdbath has received thousands of visitors yet I have never witnessed one animal attacking or trying to harm another one at the birdbath. Sure, some skirmishes happen between birds especially when overcrowding occurs but they end in a compromise where no one gets hurt and everyone gets a turn at the birdbath.

Our birdbath visitors never cease to amaze and enlighten me.

If you have a birdbath in your yard, you have probably observed some interesting visitors and behavior yourself. Please share your own birdbath stories with other readers.

Featured Image at Top: Three Crows Hanging Out and Getting a Drink at Our Birdbath

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