I’m Thankful for Redwoods.
My kids are all in Portland, Oregon, having been swept up in the great youthful migration to the Pacific Northwest which brought with it the unintended consequence of draining all thought for the future out of the nation’s vast middle so now it’s hard to avoid electing dunces to run our democracy.
I’m sad their generation is left with that problem to solve, but it’s a worry for another day. Thanksgiving has arrived and I’m in Portland to celebrate.
I write this sitting in my son’s living room, the original glass in the 110-year-old windows giving a charming wobble to the soft colors of the morning light. The family’s new dog Stevie lands on the couch beside me and bites tirelessly at my laptop. She’s a rescue dog and has more puppy remaining in her than the shelter people had estimated.
Out the window I can see the tip of a redwood tree towering over the rooftops.
When I was my grandson’s magical age my life’s goal was to one day see an actual redwood tree. I’d been shown pictures, especially the famous redwood with a tunnel cut in the trunk so cars could drive straight through it. The idea that a tree could be so giant and enduring captured my imagination above all else, even dinosaurs.
Now there’s one right in the neighborhood.
Where I come from in the Midwest, the presence of such a tree would be reason to declare the whole area a national park. Here it’s just growing in someone’s front yard. It soars above the neighborhood and makes the pretty little bungalow underneath look like a doll house. The trunk has to be seven feet across.
We passed the tree when my wife and I took our grandson for a walk in the rain. He zipped head-to-toe in a yellow rain suit, my wife walking with an umbrella. The umbrella captured his three-year-old imagination like the idea of a giant redwood had once occupied mine, and he wondered if a kid-size version of an umbrella might exist. I suggested the children’s store next to the coffee shop at the bottom of the hill. A kid-size umbrella was all he talked about as we made our way down the sidewalk. You can orient your life around more practical dreams when you’re growing up in the long shadow of a redwood tree.
In the Thanksgivings of my youth the kitchen was a place of mystery. The sole territory of Grandma and the aunts, who worked with a practiced intensity recreating the venerable recipes year after year. When the serving dishes finally appeared there was never so much as a green bean out of place. Cooking for Thanksgiving was like reading the classics.
In Portland circa 2018 the kitchen is Grand Central Station, buzzing with an energy that would make the chef of a trendy bistro jealous. My daughter makes pies with recipes taken off the internet. It’s an experimental leap forward from the old traditions that would have astonished my grandmother’s generation. The idea of baking a Thanksgiving pie you’d never tried before did not exist in their worldview.
The crusts are filled, the pies take their shift in the oven, and there are still enough sliced apples and cranberries swimming in cinnamon and rye whiskey for us to start nibbling for an early lunch.
The big meal takes shape slowly over the course of the day. The bird basting in the oven. Cranberries being reduced to sauce in a crock pot. There are more pleasant surprises. The neighbors stop over with fresh baked bread. Beers are opened, a spicy offering named Jubelale from the Deschutes Brewery.
We all squeeze into the corner of the living room for a family photo, even the wiggly grandson and the dog. The timer is set on the iPhone, and we prop it on top of Volumes One and Two of Harrison’s Internal Medicine. That’s about eight inches, or 20 pounds, of textbook.
Then the turkey is done. The plates are heaped. We express gratitude for having enough by eating too much, a human trait that would take advanced degrees in philosophy and psychology to explain.
In the morning we go for a run, the younger generation out front with Stevie the dog, me presiding over the rear. On the way back to the house the redwood tree looms over the rooftops like a signal tower. Even after my long decades of life, seeing it is a thrill.
The roots are ancient and deep. The crown pushes up and up toward the unknowable. The redwood stands as a lesson for those who believe life has to be divided into thinking only about about the unmovable roots or the fearlessly rising crown.
I’m thankful it never looses its power to astonish.