Dear Enemies: Happy Thanksgiving!

Here in Canada, the bones of our Thanksgiving turkeys are in that graveyard where they take the contents of our green bins. We hold Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October to mark the end of our harvest season. For some reason, we don’t make as big a deal about that day as Americans and that makes me a little sad.

A day to give thanks should probably be the most important day of the year because it’s not defined by religion or the remembrance of some political event. Everyone can give thanks. That is why I want to say “Thank you” to my American friends and colleagues.

I like to think of my country as one of those animals I see on YouTube who adopt another animal not of their species. You know what I mean — a dog who nurses a baby squirrel, or a hippo who befriends a giraffe. I believe that is why we have such a diverse culture.

Humans haven’t evolved as much as we would like to think. We’re animals, but instead of tooth and claw, we create weapons that can kill one or millions. We use methods of indoctrination that animals couldn’t possibly comprehend. When a predator attacks, we want to protect our pack at all costs.

In one way, the Canada-U.S. relationship is like that mother cat who realizes a chick could be food, but her maternal instincts kick in because she recognizes vulnerability. Of course you have your own agenda and your people come first, but you have enough left over to feed us some of your power, your kindness and your culture. We haven’t had any major battles since the War of 1812.

That said, like many Canadians, I am the rebellious daughter of your fostering. I have my own identity and even if I feel safe all squeezed in with your people sucking on your teat, I feel like the runt and I want to prove that I can be just as strong.

We relate to animal behavior, which is why we use idioms such as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Not all wolves are dangerous. Some are just looking for a safe haven for their family.

The American animal symbol is a predator bird at the top of the food chain. Canadians have the beaver. We create dams to protect us against predators. We use our teeth to build colonies. When we are aware of a threat, we make noise to warn of an impending danger.

Ethologists have discovered that the beaver exhibits a kind of behavior known as the “dear enemy effect”. Neighbouring animals become less territorial when they have agreed upon boundaries. Over time, they develop trust and spend less time defending their territory. Both neighbours are still on the defensive for strange animals.

We have built that “dear enemy” relationship with each other but it has evolved into much more. We share many things that don’t end at a border. Our cultures crisscross each other over the airwaves or whatever those things are that make signals that are picked up by cable and satellite. We share natural resources like the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls, although if you are looking for a tacky but memorable honeymoon experience, you really have to cross over to our side.

We may be animals, but our shared cultural experiences are what raise us up. This Thanksgiving, I listened to a song by one of yours. Listening to this song requires a commitment. It’s 18 1/2 minutes long and it definitely isn’t a dance tune. In the song Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and in the 1969 movie adapted from the song, Arlo Guthrie tells the story of his experience with the draft board during the Vietnam War.

Conscientious objectors came to our country to avoid serving in that war. The estimates vary, but between 10,000 and 30,000 draft dodgers and military deserters came here. Many of them stayed and became Canadian citizens.

In 1969, I turned 16 and ran away from home to a hippy haven called Rochdale. I met some draft dodgers there. That was my first experience with Americans. They were lovely young men who didn’t want to fight in a war that they didn’t agree with.

Maybe we don’t agree on a lot of things, but we’ve become great neighbours. In the words of another great American who made the cardigan cool (just ask hipsters), “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?”

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Originally published at pamelamariestewart.com on November 26, 2014.