This Thanksgiving we find ourselves living under very stern public health warnings not to travel or gather in large groups due to the continuing spread of coronavirus cases here and almost everywhere across the continent. It looks like there will be no big table gathering at grandma’s house this year. We’ll be in our own homes, trying to make the best of things, adding stuffing a turkey to our other shelter-in-place routines like distance learning, working at home and watching too much TV.
Remanded to stay at home, we all can give special thanks that home for us is Sonoma County. Most of us were not born here, but “discovered” this place. We found good work, a vibrant community, natural beauty, a future spouse, new friends, rich soils and a gentle climate. So we stayed. How lucky can we be? (For at least this week, we will not be mentioning wildfires, OK? Anyway, climate change is happening everywhere.)
Whether we came several generations back, or just retired a few years ago from some place else, — or, maybe, we’re the newest neighbor on our street — we can all be equally thankful for this beautiful and inspiring place. We could borrow from a famous quote by botanist Luther Burbank who came to Sonoma County in 1875 from his native New England to compose this year’s Thanksgiving Blessing. “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned.” Amen.
We’re not supposed to fly to out-of-state relatives or even drive somewhere else in the Bay Area or California. But we can walk under majestic redwoods, hike the open and public bluffs of our Pacific coast, walk along several county park trails under California Native Oaks, pause along our Russian River or Laguna de Santa Rosa or watch the evening’s yellowing sun fade behind the changing colors of our late autumn vineyards.
Should we feel “extra smart” because we chose to live here, or just remain humble and blessed? Besides the plant wizard Burbank, many other well-known people who could have chosen to live anywhere came here and stayed. An appropriate name to drop here is Charles “Sparky” Schulz, who gave us “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” TV classic and his Peanuts cartoon strip characters. Novelist Jack London circled the world more than once but always came home to his Valley of the Moon ranch where he is buried.
All the waves of immigrants who came here after they were busted in the Gold Rush, or followed the Spanish mission trails or sailed around the Horn to find fertile soils and a new homeland, all brought various Thanksgiving traditions and other customs with them. Except for the semi-nomadic Indigenous tribes of Pomo, Miwok, Wappo and other small bands, all of us came from somewhere else. Even our wild turkeys were introduced here from Texas.
Italian, Portuguese and other Europeans arrived here and added orchards, vineyards, pastures and small villages to the landscape. Men like Harmon Heald, George Guerne, Jasper O’Farrell, Cloverdale’s R.B. Markle and W.J. Miller established lumber, mining and manufacturing enterprises and set the early character of the small towns we now call home. Only the Russian fur traders at Fort Ross seemed to have given up and went back home to their motherland.
Our annual Thanksgiving holiday is always a good time to remember our heritages, share our customs (and favorite side dishes) and, of course, give thanks for our homes, each other and for those among us what may be less fortunate. Thanksgiving is also an apt time to share wishes, inspirations and plans for how we want our Sonoma County to be sustained, bettered or changed.
We have the COVID-19 pandemic to conquer and we have many more months of economic recovery to complete. No doubt, we will all be praying this holiday for a Thanksgiving in 2021 full of big family gatherings, community dinners and no more “virtual” anything. We’ll probably even be ready to tolerate all that Thanksgiving Day TV football, so long as we can have turkey leftovers the next day.