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This must be the place: They’re cutting through the steady wind and landing on the ground

Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Like every Thanksgiving, I’ll figure something out. 

With my family over 1,000 miles away back up in the North Country, I tend to be an orphan during this holiday feast in Western North Carolina. Luckily, over the last eight years here, I’ve been invited into homes all over Southern Appalachia, where the food is plentiful and there’s always an extra seat at the table for you.

But, this year is a different. Very different. Not only are there now restrictions on how many people can gather inside for Turkey Day (and for good reason), but most folks simply aren’t comfortable taking a chance on someone not from their immediate family (or social bubble) or from across state lines. 

So, here I am, editing and proofing this week’s newspaper on Tuesday morning in our office. It’s quiet back here in the conference room. Normally this week, it would mean folks have already headed out of town for Thanksgiving. This year, it’s colleagues either working from home or on a well-deserved stay-cation following months of covering the endless depths of local, regional and state politics. 

Part of me has this urge to walk out of the office right now, get in my truck and drive the 18 hours straight to my parents’ farmhouse in Plattsburgh, New York. The woodstoves in the back den and living room roaring. My mother’s fine cooking wafting through the old home. Football on the TV. Our golden retriever running around the side yard covered in fresh snow, just as excited as I am to be immersed in the scene unfolding before our eyes. 

But, someone has to hold down the fort in the newsroom. And there’s still several articles that I have due to submit by the end of the month for one of our travel magazines. So, the carrot that is heading home for Christmas remains hanging in front of me, each article written and emailed to my publisher another inch closer to seizing the orange vegetable and cranking up the engine for the Champlain Valley. 

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Regardless, Thanksgiving is here. The first thing on the 2020 calendar that actually seems somewhat familiar and reminiscent of the “before times.” Even amid the chaos and confusion of this year, sitting down to a hot meal with your family to celebrate what your thankful for in this universe is a pretty special thing. It always has been. But, seemingly way more emphasized (and needed) in the here and now. 

And that’s been my mindset during “all of this,” seeking out and trying to find those silver linings, whether physical or emotional. I’ve always been someone who pursues gratitude, to sincerely acknowledge how fortunate it is to embrace the tangible and intrinsic beauty in this world. It’s important each and every single day to do so. 

It sounds obvious, but feeling “alive” is the most amazing thing you’ll ever experience. It’s also incredible that we get to participate in life each time we get out of bed, put on our shoes and head out the front door. Never sit on the sidelines of life. Chase after it. Run alongside it. 

And don’t forget: getting older is a privilege. This is truth. Each candle on that birthday cake of yours is an ode to another layer of moments and wisdom you’ve been able to acquire (and share). So, hold up that gratitude. 

The silver linings in my personal 2020 have been numerous. And I’ve made damn sure of it. Spending the summer with my family in the North Country. Hiking all over my native Adirondack Mountains. Going for a swim at Split Rock Falls on a hot day, cold beer in hand. Coffee with my dad in the morning. Margaritas with my mom in the afternoon. Campfires with old friends in the evening.

But, the one moment that really brought my gratitude and quest for silver linings full circle this year was that random day in September when I found myself standing in the Medicine Bow National Forest (pictured). 

Just west of Laramie, Wyoming, it’s this awe-inspiring mountain range of jagged peaks and lakes, seemingly dropped from the heavens above onto the flat-as-a-game-board high desert prairie of “The Cowboy State.” 

It was a solo trek in my rusty, musty truck from Waynesville to Bozeman, Montana, to meet up with my parents while they were visiting my aunt and cousin. I took off for the open road of America — my true home and place of glorious refuge — in an effort to wander the geographic desolation of this country and, perhaps, find myself once again in the process. 

Medicine Bow wasn’t planned for this trek, as aren’t most of the great things that occur in your existence. Suggested at the last minute by a road dog buddy, it was only an hour or so out of my way to Montana. Screw it. Why not, eh? Take a chance and see what lies just beyond the horizon. 

And what I soon discovered was one of the most magnificent places I’ve ever encountered. Pulling the truck into a dusty parking lot, I hopped out and put on my trail running shoes. Like a mountain goat, I bounced from rock to rock and along the narrow dirt paths, only to stand in front of this freezing cold lake, the crisp wind of an impending winter swirling around me, the last of the summer sun warming my bones and putting a kick in my step.

Back down to the truck, I grabbed my bottle of Yellowstone bourbon. Popping open the bottle, I saluted the mountains and the day at hand. I saluted my late grandfather, who adored the West, but never got a chance to see Wyoming. I saluted my friends and family in their respective endeavors. I saluted all of you reading this, who continue to support the written word. And in that moment, I took a sip with gusto: my gratitude overflowing, as per usual. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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