Gratitude and responsibility

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange sits in the woods a lot this time of year, trying to keep from freezing to death and ruminating on freedom and thanksgiving.

(Lange) Seven o’clock in the morning in the Adirondacks. The sun hasn’t reached me yet, but I don’t care. For once on a deer watch, I’m not freezing to death. The cold air lying along the ground is rising softly, pulled upward by the rising warm air above it.

I’ve been here ’bout half an hour, listening for a rustle of leaves, watching for a motion of brown against brown. On the ridge above me, Spen and Charlie are slowly working their way toward me. I’ve had lots of time to think.

This morning it’s about home: the place where people talk like you; where you don’t need to establish anything; where, sitting in the woods, you know all the trees. Cypress, Douglas fir, and live oak are lovely, but they’re no more home than a hotel room. Here I’m surrounded by beech, red oak, three kinds of maple, big-tooth and trembling popple, and hardhack. I’m home.

From the air, home is much more wooded than you would guess. Three north-south rivers: Merrimack, Connecticut, and Hudson. Three mountain ranges: White, Green, and Adirondack. The Whites are the driest and barest; the Adirondacks a vast, mossy green sponge; Vermont, with sweeter land than either of the others, is still agricultural. The people are different, too. (Without going into arguable details, just take a look at their Congressional delegations.) There’s no easy way to go east and west here. But there aren’t easy ways to do anything here.

A pileated woodpecker flaps through the treetops: a living argument for the ancestry of the pteranodon. A nuthatch runs headfirst down a beech trunk. How in the world, light as he is, can he exert enough pressure to hook claws into that smooth bark? He looks at me carefully and decides that nothing is to be lost by going elsewhere, and goes. A commuter jet descends toward Lake Champlain, headed for Burlington.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. Sitting on my maple log, waiting for a deer, it’s easy to float on the surface of that ritual with superficial, material blessings: warm clothes; kids through college; reasonable health and acuity; plenty of work.

Then I remember how I felt when I first heard the jet plane down low, and reflect that there are people all over the world who live with those feelings: who start awake in the night at the sound of passing vehicles; who fear men with uniforms and weapons; who plant crops without the certainty they will be allowed the harvest. How could we have deserved freedom from all that?

We couldn’t; it was given to us by men who believed that government derives from the consent of the governed. Sitting on the log with a rifle across my knees in a forest owned by the citizens of a free country, I’m almost overwhelmed with thanksgiving for the almost absolute freedom we enjoy, and the responsibility to preserve it for posterity unbent and unbroken.

This is Willem Lange in St.Huberts, New York, and I gotta get back to work.

(Host) Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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