Chulitna River. Photo by Laura Bartholomae
By Jenny Weis
For those of us in this community who fly fish with any regularity, it’s safe to say we’re pretty lucky. To go fishing is to set aside a few hours just for fun. It’s for breathing fresh air. For taking advantage of clean rivers, access to gear and transport, and having the time and health to pursue a hobby. Not everyone gets to do that.
I’ll be the first to admit how corny it is, but every year at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I’m that person who makes everyone go around and share the things for which they’re most grateful. (Insert groans, eye rolls, and head shakes here.)
The tone of this practice totally depends on the group and events of the past year. Some years, the responses are quick, somewhat forced, and surface level. The memorable years have candid sharing and storytelling complete with a normally impassive father-in-law shedding a tear. Answers are strained in the tough years where it seems that recognizing what we’re grateful for somehow ignores or belittles the difficulties that were dealt with alongside the good stuff.
Because let’s be honest. No matter how fortunate we are, parts of thanksgiving are always complicated. There’s family disputes, weary travelers and absent or lost loved ones who should be seated at the table sharing the meal. There’s the awareness of the many who have less.
Regardless of the ups and downs, I think it’s important to look back and take the time to express our thanks more deliberately than just going through the motions of the classic traditions associated with our day of giving thanks.
Since I’m usually the “everyone must share” ring leader everyone loves to hate, I’ve been thinking about what I want to say on Thursday.
I am grateful for many chances to have spent quality time with people most important to me. I’m grateful for purposeful work that inspires, challenges, and connects me to smart people doing good. I’m grateful for adventures and using my healthy body to see and do cool things. I’m grateful and increasingly aware that my basic needs are met.
When I consider specific examples in each of these categories, one theme seems to tie many of them together: rivers.
This year, many of my most memorable days were on a river. I saw some landscapes wilder than I knew existed and I caught the biggest fish of my life. I felt like royalty eating fresh, delicious wild salmon that I’d caught myself hours prior, and gathered food to fill my freezer. I scattered the ashes of my incredible late husband in a place he loved, surrounded by the people he loved. I made new friends, reconnected with old ones, listened to stories, laughed with and learned from fellow anglers of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. I enjoyed quiet moments, contentedly letting the breeze mess up my hair and the sun shine on my skin. I began to fall in love again. All of this was on a river.
Amid all this stuff, the Trout Unlimited team to which I belong worked hard to help protect, however incrementally, the rivers in Alaska that give us so much. Our rivers sustain family traditions and great memories, but they also literally give many Alaskans the food that nourishes our bodies, healthy activities for kids that keep them out of trouble, money to provide shelter and food on the table for fishing families, and culture that binds communities today as it has for generations.
I’m sad and worried about a lot of things life has thrown at this world and at me. But I’m happy about a lot too, and incredibly fortunate. Whether bitter or sweet, or somewhere in between, there’s gratitude. And for whatever reason, for me, often times there’s also a river.
If you love fishing, I wonder how rivers flow through your list, and I wish I could hear it. Whatever your circumstance this Thanksgiving, I’m wishing you the happiest holiday possible. If you, too, think back to stress-free days of fun, clean rivers, and plenty of fish, I hope you’ll consider sharing it with those seated around you on Thursday as you pass the gravy.
Jenny Weis is Trout Unlimited’s Alaska communications director. She lives in Anchorage. Apple pie is her favorite thanksgiving dish, though stuffing is really good, too.