John Harrigan: A partial thank-you list as Turkey Day draws nigh

JOHN HARRIGAN November 23. 2013 8:17PM

When we were kids, Thanksgiving didn't mean all that much, at least in terms of material things like candy or toys. The only tangible evidence of something special included far-flung relatives showing up, strange aromas floating from the kitchen and the good china gracing the table.

One Thanksgiving stands out. It was the last gasp of deer season. I informed my mother that I was setting out for the swamp with my Dad's Model 94 and was informed right back that I'd better be home before dark - not because of any safety concerns, but because that was when we'd all be sitting down around the groaning table.

Making my way home, about an hour before dark, I cut a track leading straight back into the swamp I'd just left. It was snowing hard. Here was a deer, I figured, that was going to bed down, and soon. And so I followed it back into the gloaming with nary a thought for the time.

Nothing came of it, of course, except that I came home in the dead of dark by shortcut, grasping roots and saplings to climb the steep ridge up into the back pasture. And when I slogged into the kitchen, all wet and brambles and mud, my mother, who was definitely the unflappable type, glanced at me and said, "Get in here and sit down, you're just in time for grace."

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I'd bet that if all of us who roam New Hampshire's hills and valleys for various outdoor pursuits were asked what item was sure to make our Top 10 Thankful List, it'd be open land.

This thought came to me again the other day when I set out from the barn door for a two-hour hunt near the end of the day. On that swing through half a dozen woods, pastures and fields owned by neighbors and townspeople and people from away, I'd see not even a hint of a "No Hunting" or "No Trespassing" sign. In fact, I'd be hard put to think of a "No" anything poster anywhere within a day's hunting distance from home.

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New England in general - and New Hampshire in particular - have a strong tradition of open land, which means that if land is not specifically posted against it, there is implied permission for you to venture there. All too many of us, I think, take this great privilege and stubborn tradition for granted.

I leave my land open for other people's enjoyment and all of my neighbors do, too, and their neighbors and so on as far as the eye can see. This is a fragile legacy beyond value and there is a tendency here to say, "Thanks be," but it might be more effective to thank the landowner.

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On a day around Thanksgiving when I was 14, I got my first deer, a 140-pound doe. Just as she always was when I brought home a stringer of fish for supper, my Mom was tickled to death to see it hanging in the barn.

After I'd skinned it out, we took the deer down to the freezer lockers to be cut up, wrapped and stored, because very few households back then had freezers. And every time a piece of that doe, whether hamburg or stew or roast - mostly hamburg or stew, because this was one old and tough doe - graced the table, I lived the hunt all over again.

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Finally, at this time of year I try to say a mental thank-you for the thousands of volunteers and organizations that try to make sure no one is forgotten over the holidays. All over the state, church and civic groups are working together with social agencies and others in the know to put on Thanksgiving dinners for those who might otherwise go without, and in many communities, delivering dinners and other holiday treats and gifts to shut-ins all over town and countryside.

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All year long, but especially during the holiday season, in towns and cities the length and breadth of the state, churches and town officials and service clubs meet periodically to exchange information and see what can be done to help needy individuals and families. What they accomplish out of the goodness of their hearts is nothing short of amazing---and, of course, heartwarming for all.

John Harrigan's address is Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576, or

John Harrigan

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