I have been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. Her chapter titled “Allegiance To Gratitude” gave me the most perfect prayer for our Thanksgiving table as we reflected on the Thanksgiving Address, “known more accurately as The Words That Come Before All Else.” The opening words are: “Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.”
Even though our entire family was not able to be together, three generations were represented at our table and we felt the deep gratitude that comes with the love and respect we accord one another while we read and reflected on “The Words That Come Before All Else” and we celebrated the continuing cycles of life.
The Thanksgiving Address goes on to honor and greet and give thanks to Mother Earth, to the Waters of the Earth, to Fish and to Food Plants and Medicine Herbs; to the beautiful Animal life of the world, all the creatures who walk about with us.
More than any plateful of turkey and stuffing, The Words That Come Before All Else filled me with conscious awareness of what it means to be alive and to live in harmony with creation.
We bought our small plot of land back in the early ‘60s when our town was selling off confiscated lots for which taxes had not been paid for many years in order to make them taxable again. We bought a one half acre piece of land on Martha’s Vineyard for $300! We built a log cabin on it in 1977. We made it our permanent home in 1994 when we moved here “year-round.”
It is not lost on us that our tiny postage stamp of land belonged to the People of the First Light, the Wampanoag people, for hundreds of generations before the white incursions.
When we built, we were the only occupants on what would eventually become “our lane.” We weren’t terribly conscious back then, but even in our ignorance, we tried to make as little impact as possible on the woods surrounding us, building on just one 50’x100’ lot and leaving the other three untouched.
My kitchen window faces south, looking out on the undeveloped lots. From my window I can watch a hawk flying with its mouth full of some hapless small creature. Squirrels leap from one tree branch to another. In the spring a mother skunk protectively guides her four little ones through the yard. A flock of wild turkeys visits regularly. A multitude of other invisible night creatures make their home in our little bit of “wild” even as the other lots in our neighborhood have been developed. The multiplicity and variety of tracks in a winter snow attest to the life that our untouched lots support.
Development encroaches on the land, just as we did. The new and ever popular “modular” homes require the absolute stripping of every bit of vegetation in order to be delivered to the site by huge tractor trailers and the equally huge cranes that are required to lift the modular sections onto their foundations.
On the day after Thanksgiving, my home is quiet. There is time to reflect on the immensity of what has happened here; time to go back to The Words That Come Before All Else and feel the burden of history as I look out my window; time to mourn the unspeakable losses the People Of The First Light have endured such that I can live on a small patch of land with woods in my view as I finish my morning tea.
In the not terribly distant future, my husband and I will pass from this world. Our home and our bit of land will eventually transfer to other hands - to people who may or may not hold the land as sacred. Given the nature of development on our island, it is easy to imagine our little home being leveled and replaced by a modular structure that requires the stripping of all that we love and enjoy.
So our commitment while we are here is to honor this gift that comes at huge historical cost to so many, to protect and respect it as long as we are able, revisiting regularly The Words That Come Before All Else, remembering: “We now turn our thoughts to the Creator or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need live a good life is here on Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greeting and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.”