Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: My Meadowlands Thanksgiving

My love of Thanksgiving always has much less to do with Pilgrims and pumpkin pie and much more to do with giving thanks and connecting to the many wild places we are fortunate enough to enjoy here close to home.

Growing up in the Meadowlands my Thanksgiving always started out spending a few hours in the morning enjoying nature before sitting down to dinner. Our family tradition began many years ago when my brother and I would wander the Meadowlands, enjoying the crisp fall morning air and looking out for the richness of wildlife that our Meadowlands held out for us to admire.

There were memorable Thanksgivings past when we were lucky enough to see a Barred Owl in the lowland forests that still are part of the Meadowlands and the many remarkable Red-tailed Hawks, despite being a common sight, that always had special meaning for the both of us.

Only after feeling we had taken in our share of nature did we sense that it was really Thanksgiving. Our dinner was only a final piece or even a kind of tribute to the nature we had enjoyed that morning.  Even as we got older and life separated us at times no matter where my brother and I were on this special day we would be sure we got to talk about ourThanksgivings past.

And now, even though it has been many years since his passing, he is still with me each and every Thanksgiving morning  when I take  my annual walk. Later in life I got to carry on the tradition with my two sons, Matthew and Michael. I was able to show them their first White-throated Sparrows and Juncos that scratched around the Meadowlands grasses in their never-ending search for their own Thanksgiving dinner.

It would be wonderful if every family could devote a little time outdoors this Thanksgiving. Taking in nature can bring a more important meaning to a holiday that is overdone with the idea of how much food we can eat and overrun with big box store commercials for Black Friday sales.

Watching a Red-tail soaring over the trees or a Chickadee catching a sunflower seed in your backyard Oak Tree, connecting with nature on this wonderful day reminds us that there is something bigger than ourselves out there and that we need to give thanks for many things in nature that we sometimes take for granted. For myself I need to give thanks for being able to enjoy more Bald Eagles than we ever have had in our lifetime and the privilege to watch the Peregrine Falcon hunt once more over the Meadowlands, something my brother and I meandering the Meadowlands many years ago never could have imagined.

I especially need to give thanks to the many special people that I am privileged enough to have accompany me while  traversing natures trails. All the rare bird sightings in the world would not have much meaning unless I had all my wonderful  friends to enjoy and share them with.

My wish is that everyone can start a new Thanksgiving tradition this year. Take a morning walk with your spouse, a friend, or a neighbor. Help a child get started birding, introduce them to the miracles of the natural world and take in all the marvels that only nature can bring to us.

Listen to the Carolina Wren and the Fox sparrow; let nature revitalize your spirit and your soul as only nature can. Learn to admire and appreciate all life from the last colorful leaves of Fall to the Northern Cardinal that graces your backyard birdfeeder. Let nature become part of you and your family this holiday season. In the words of John Muir, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

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