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Gratitude for Place

By Hannah Curcio

“You can’t listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And, while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by meeting unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need. Gratitude doesn’t send you shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for land and people alike.” –from “Braiding Sweetgrass,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Gratitude for what we have, especially during Thanksgiving week, is another gift from the local food experience. Our focus has extended beyond the kitchen and the farm to encompass our thinking about the celebration of a holiday. Inlanders that we are, one of our favorite getaways is the Oregon Coast. As the calendar turned to November, our minds drifted west and we found ourselves checking the availability of our favorite rental house in Port Orford. But at some point, the question arose: do we really want to go anywhere? Why not take a week at home to enjoy this wondrous place where we live? Suffice it to say, we are happy with our decision.  

On Friday, when we might have otherwise been rushing to get packed, we instead found ourselves at the Warner Mountain Weavers in Cedarville. From the beautiful rugs on the wall to the mission to eliminate microplastics from our clothing and bedding, Lani Estill, Bonnie Chase, and the rest of the folks at the Weavers are a local treasure that we can all too easily take for granted. Watching our kids and some of their school friends take in the experience of the shop–rather than steaming past it on our way to the ocean–was a fitting start to our local holiday.

Over the weekend, we headed east to the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge. The fastest land mammal in North America, the Pronghorn Antelope, nearly went extinct in the early twentieth century.  Wildlife biologist Charles Sheldon recognized their decline and played a key role in preserving enough habitat for their population to rebound. Named in his honor, the refuge forty miles east of us remains a crucial source of habitat for antelope, sage grouse, and a wide range of other nonhuman denizens of the Great Basin. We spent a sunny afternoon among the native perennial grasses hunting for artifacts from previous human inhabitants, and we are already planning our next trip.

On the food front, we are thrilled with how rarely we darken the door of a retail establishment. Not only does it save us off-farm time and money, it intensifies our focus on gratitude for what we produce on our farm and in our community. While we have always liked our Jersey cow’s milk, now that she is our predominant dairy source, her daily milk is something we count on for the morning’s pancakes, for yogurt, and for glasses of milk during the day when we need protein. Each morning milking is another opportunity for recognition of our dependency on Princess (she came with the name), as well as the soil that feeds her, whether in the form of the grasses in our pasture or our neighbor’s alfalfa. Our gratitude for the soil’s bounty extends to the new carrots in the hoop house, and the salad greens and kale with pumpkin we have been eating the last couple of nights. There is a nice juxtaposition as we mix our pumpkin from summer with our new winter crop of kale and baby salad greens (pictured), which we have begun tucking into bed under row cloth with the arrival of true winter conditions to the valley.

Coming full circle and thinking ahead to the spring, we are also grateful to the community members who have invited us to harvest their autumn leaf litter for soil building in our new hoop house (pictured). We are most certainly starting from scratch–our neighbor, while excavating the pad for us, quipped “well if the gardening doesn’t pan out, you can open a gravel pit”–but we are up to the challenge of building soil one layer at a time, using surplus biomass from our community that might otherwise be burned or, absurdly, taken to the local dump. While our rocky, sloping ground is not in danger of being featured on any list of North America’s prime farmlands, we are grateful to be here, building fertility scoop by scoop.