A Time for Gratitude

The Trails are open for hiking.

Because Crossroads is within the city limits of Sturgeon Bay, hunting is not permitted.  But, the Collins Learning Center at Crossroads at Big Creek  will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, the holiday of gratitude started by the Pilgrims. “Pilgrims”? The word is a sloppy English corruption of the Latin word, “peregrinus”, which means foreigner or wanderer. This was the word that was used to name the falcon that migrates—the peregrine falcon.

Speaking of foreigners and travelers, turkeys were not native in Europe. The birds came from Latin  America, but nature writers of the 16th century  had a somewhat fuzzy grasp of geography, and somehow got the idea that these birds came from the Turkish Empire, hence the name.

According to the history books, in the early 15oos,  the conquistador Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba discovered the Yucatan where the indigenous people were raising turkeys. He took a few of them home as souvenirs and the birds quickly became popular with European poultry farmers.

But the connection to Thanksgiving? The story we tell our children is essentially revisionist history, but in 1621, there actually were some foreigners at Plymouth, Massachusetts: the Pilgrims… religious separatists from England. After a sojourn in Holland didn’t work out, this group  of 102 people made an arduous trip to America on a ship called the Mayflower. Allegedly continuing to live on the ship after landing, they suffered a winter of starvation and sickness. 46 Pilgrims died that  first year.  But, with  mentoring from the native people, they were able to grow a good crop of corn their  first summer so their leader, Governor Bradford, decided to follow the English custom of holding a harvest festival.

In preparation for the feast,  Governor Bradford sent “four men fowling” and presumably these men brought back some birds. Apparently at that time, the Pilgrims called any wild fowl  “turkeys” so we have no way of knowing whether the banquet included ducks or geese.  Or maybe the birds really were native turkeys.

Documentation of the event is vague at best, but menu probably included boiled pumpkins [no flour or sugar for pies] and corn bread. Potatoes were considered poisonous in those days, so it’s unlikely they were served. We do know that the generous Wampanoag people brought the gift of five deer to share,  so it is likely that venison was the main course at three day feast. And while there is no evidence that the celebration was a Thanksgiving as we now consider it, the people of the Plymouth Colony certainly must have been grateful to have endured  the perilous first year and that they felt blessed to have enough food to survive the approaching winter.

Our Thanksgiving is now a traditional time of gratitude.  And again this year,  Crossroads has been blessed. We are forever grateful to our private donors and volunteers who,  through their gifts of time, talent and funds, make our very existence possible.

We also are thankful for foundation gifts.  Our projects have been funded by grants from The Raibrook Foundation, the Door County Community Foundation, Altrusa of Door County, MMG Foundation, Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, The Peter G. Horton Charitable Remainder Trust, the William Wood Skinner Foundation, The Robert Hanson Foundation, Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, and numerous family trusts and  very generous local businesses and organizations. We have been  blessed.

Around a holiday, we often remember those who are no longer with us. Though we miss these friends very much, we have been blessed that they named Crossroads at Big Creek in their wills, left bequests, and designated memorial gifts to help us advance our mission.  “Legacy Giving”  truly is an appropriate name.

Our preserve is a wonderful legacy, especially appreciated during hunting season. Because Crossroads is within the city limits of Sturgeon Bay, hunting is prohibited. We welcome hikers, pets, grandchildren, tourists…anyone who needs to get in touch with nature with environmentally gentle recreation.

Saturday morning, November 24, at 10:00  our family program will be a Make and Take Bird Feeder activity. After viewing slides of showing winter birds,learners of all ages will make a simple bird feeder which they can hang at their homes (or wrap up as a gifts).

We already are tired about hearing what the “fiscal cliff”  will mean for our future.  So on Saturday afternoon, we will explore how our own dolomite  cliff–the Niagara Escarpment– has determined our history. The multi-media presentation will begin at 2:00 and is free and open to the public.

Sunday, November 25, a naturalist-led hike to Big Creek will help get the kinks out for those with  cabin fever, football overload or recovering from too many leftovers. The hike will take about an hour and will focus on the early signs of winter.  The hike is free and open to the public.


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