Sometimes I feel like the richest person in the whole world. I’m hardly wealthy—my annual income usually barely reaches 5 figures and will certainly never see 6 figures—but I’ve got everything I need and more. Russ and I are happy, our children are healthy, wonderful human beings, our house is holding together, and our little dog Photon is still perky and loving at 13 ½.
My cats, one brought in as a stray and one that was a feral cat in one of those Trap-Neuter-Release programs, are both lovely, healthy pets satisfied with life as indoor cats.
I’ve been living with a sweet little Eastern Screech-Owl for almost 12 years, and Archimedes is still easy-going and happy to do education programs with me.
Photographers just about always want new lenses and the latest camera bodies, but I’m very satisfied with the equipment I have right now. Yeah, I could use a 500-mm lens and one of the cameras with a professional-level sensor, but I’m so happy with the photos that I get with my own setup that I don’t feel the least bit envious of those with better equipment, and at the end of a long hike, I’m especially grateful that I don’t have bigger, heavier gear.
After coming home from the Grand Canyon, I’m grateful for the existence of California Condors, and that there are so many individuals and organizations and government employees who have worked so tirelessly for so many decades struggling to bring this exquisite bird back from the brink of extinction. And I’m grateful for the Grand Canyon itself, along with all the other public lands in America.
In 1953, Roger Tory Peterson brought his English friend James Fisher on a 100-day birding adventure to America’s greatest locations. After they returned home, Fisher wrote in Wild America of how the media shows what America is like to Europe:
They show us too little of their earthly paradise, and publicize too little their determination to share it with wild nature. Perhaps they have forgotten that they had dedicated National Parks before we in England had even one little, local, private nature-protection society. Or perhaps they think that to tell of these things would arouse again our not-so-secret resentment at the boast that all that the Americans have is bigger and better… [N]ever have I seen such wonders or met such worthy landlords so worthy of their land. They have had, and still have, the power to ravage it; and instead have made it a garden.
Not all the places Fisher and Peterson visited are still intact, as Scott Weidensaul found during the time he was retracing their steps, recounted in Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul. But I’m grateful for the many places that have been preserved so lovingly for you and me and the plants and animals that have so enriched every human being who has lived here from our earliest history. I’m grateful to live in a world dotted with Bridled Titmice, Mountain Chickadees, ravens, Gambel’s Quails, and Cinnamon Teal.
I’m grateful that someone once named a strikingly shiny black bird with a jaunty crest and red eyes the Phainopepla. I love the clear whistle that Phainopeplas make, and I especially am grateful that when I whistled to one Phainopepla, he looked me right in the eye and whistled back at me.
And after a long journey seeing all these wonders and condors flying over all of it, I’m grateful that as we walked into the house after this long journey, a cardinal alighted in the tree next to the front porch and half a dozen chickadees called out a greeting to me. On this Thanksgiving, I feel rich and blessed beyond measure. And I’m thankful for my ability to feel gratitude in the face of so much genuine wealth.