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Guest Report - What Was First Thanksgiving REALLY Like?

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 an 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, during the early 1500s, 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 small sailing ship called the Mayflower. Allegedly continuing to live on the ship after landing, they suffered a winter of starvation and sickness. Forty-six Pilgrims died that first year. But, with mentoring from the native people, the survivors were able to grow a good crop of corn the 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 the 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 the three day feast.

There is no evidence that the feast was a "thanksgiving" as we now celebrate it, but the people of the Plymouth Colony certainly must have been grateful to have endured their perilous first year and surely they felt blessed to have enough food to survive the approaching winter.

Thanksgiving is now the traditional time of gratitude. And again this year, Crossroads at Big Creek has been blessed. We are forever grateful to our donors and volunteers who, through their gifts of time, talent and funds, make our very survival possible.

We also are thankful for foundation gifts. Our major 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 Hansen Foundation, Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, and numerous family trusts and very generous local businesses and organizations. We have been blessed.

Around a holiday, we remember those who are no longer with us. Though we miss these people very much, we have been blessed that several of our friends named Crossroads at Big Creek in their wills, or left bequests, or 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, November 24 at 10:00, our family program will be a Make and Take Bird Feeder Workshop. 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 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 cliff -- the Niagara Escarpment-- helped determine our history. The multi-media presentation will begin at 2:00 and is free and open to the public.

Sunday, November 25, at 1:00 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 outing is free and open to the public.

Crossroads is a donor-supported learning preserve, welcoming learners of all ages for activities in science, history and the environment. The Collins Learning Center is open daily 2:00-4:30, but will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. The preserve is closed to hunting and the trails are open year round.

Saturday, Nov. 24
10:00  Family Program: Make and Take Bird Feeder Workshop 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). The program and materials are free and open to the public.

2:00 History Lecture: The Niagara Escarpment -- How It Determined Our History. This multi-media presentation will begin at 2:00. Using our new Multi-media equipment, we will explore how this "cliff" shaped the Door Peninsula as we know it. Lecture hall of the Collins Learning Center. Free and open to the public.


Sunday, November 25
1:00 Hike to Big Creek This one hour naturalist-led hike will visit Big Creek and will focus on plant adaptations for winter survival. Free and open to the public. Meet at the Collins Learning Center.

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