public land hunting
Dragging out a Montana mule deer. Matthew Arkins

This Thanksgiving, as it has been for a couple decades now, my friends will gather in a hand-built wooden home in the shadow of Montana’s Apgar Range. There will be a fire in the woodstoves on each end of the house, but the real warmth will be from the people.

There will be dogs and kids underfoot. There will be an elk roast blackened with whisky and coffee – a masterpiece of slow-cooking. Odds are there will be a buck hanging in the machine shed, waiting for skinning.

There will be stories. Most of them well-worn as the handle on grandpa’s best knife, others as fresh as the last tracking snow. These stories will be of life outside – of hunting and fishing, hiking, berry picking and canoeing. They will take place on national forests and wild rivers – places that belong to all of us.

These days, it seems America has become a nation of bellyachers. Social media has opened a vast frontier of griping and moaning about an infinite variety of topics, mostly about how the world is going to hell. And that might be the case. But even so, it’s good to carve out one day of the year to reflect on the good things, to remind ourselves of the value and power of gratitude. To remember that we have it pretty darn good.

Looking back over the past year, I am grateful for:

  • Creeks, rivers and lakes that are cold and pure enough that you can still use them to chill a six-pack and support cutthroat trout.
  • Brook trout, which the musician Greg Brown calls “God’s reminder that Creation is a good idea.”
  • Bucks and bulls that have taken a downhill drag back to the truck, and for friends who drop everything to help when the route is uphill.
  • The family who let me hunt their ranch this year, just as I am thankful for the 640 million acres of national forest, Bureau of Land Management range land and national parks that belong to all Americans.
  • The drift-boat guide who didn’t laugh at my amateur fly casting this summer, but instead cheered heartily when I finally landed a decent rainbow.
  • The grubby young men and women in yellow shirts and hard hats who did the dangerous, grunt labor keeping our communities safe during the epic forest fire season of 2017.
  • A nation where we are free not to just hold opinions but voice them at will.
  • Fellow citizens who, despite the present fad for high-octane name-calling and finger-pointing, who will listen respectfully and enjoy a day afield even if we disagree.

And I’ll be thankful if there is elk roast left over for sandwiches after the feast is done. Here’s to your family and everything you are grateful for.