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Living and Writing in the Natural World


To live in the natural world is to celebrate. To celebrate its seasons, certainly. The harvest season of the fall must surely rank high on holiday celebrations. As with the pilgrims and their Indian acquaintances, Thanksgiving is just that celebration. Last week my family’s Thanksgiving celebration took a new twist.

I had returned only days before from two weeks in Hawaii. My wife Tammy had just finished the brutal first three months of teaching a class of lively fifth-graders with hardly a break. Little energy between the two of us for the preparation of a huge meal for a crowd. My first wife, Donna, mother of daughters one and two, with whom we typically celebrate Thanksgiving, had returned from two weeks in Michoacan, Mexico just the day before. Her husband was fresh back from ten days photographing the temple at Narita, Japan. Daughter number one and her husband are the parents of two girls under two years of age—enough said, there.

So for the first time in nearly forty years of Thanksgiving, the extended Barnett family went out for Thanksgiving dinner. And not just “out”—to Alioto’s, the oldest seafood restaurant on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Joined by daughter number three and son number one, as well as my niece and her husband and daughter (accomplished Irish-American partiers), we totaled eleven adults and two toddlers. With some askance glances by the hosts up front, we were placed in tables on either side of the aisle to the bar—a perfect location. Out the window to our east we could see the first span of the Bay bridge and the Oakland hills beyond. Out the window to our west was the Golden Gate bridge rising from the shore of Sausalito and Marin county.

We drank a bottle of champagne and two of wine amongst the crew, with a special “Manhattan” for my son-in-law who had sat with a sleeping granddaughter in their car for the first ten minutes. We ate—only one of us turkey and the fixings, to acknowledge tradition. The rest of us—seafood galore. Donna and her husband sat with huge bibs around their necks, making a royal mess cracking, cutting, stabbing, and slurping the house specialty “Cioppino” shell-fish stew with gusto.

Did I mention we enjoyed ourselves?

Everyone changed seats throughout the evening, sharing their conviviality with each other’s tables, calling across the aisle with teasing comments. The company was excellent, the food and service superb.

After the meal, we strolled along the wharf, smelling the dockside smells and listening to the holiday bustle, us guys smoking cheap cigarillos and watching the breeze whip the smoke away before it could offend anyone. Afterwards, we repaired to daughter number one’s home for the pumpkin pie I had baked the night before (OK, so I was capable of some cooking) and serious spoiling of the granddaughters. Donna read a beautiful poem about "Grace" sent by her twin brother. Poker and modest splashes of bourbon around the half-century-old oak dinner table at which Donna had played ping-pong as a child completed the evening.

You can fill in the type of celebration for your family. We each have our own styles. But celebrate we must. The planet is awash in colors and smells, food and drink. The changing seasons present them all dramatically to us. We should acknowledge the spectacle, celebrate it. Thanksgiving is behind us. Coming up is the Winter Solstice (December 21/22), then the Chinese Lunar New Year (February 9/10) introducing the Year of the Snake. Time to start preparing!

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