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This year we celebrated Thanksgiving at my daughter’s home in Western Massachusetts. And because she was hosting it, we enjoyed a vegan feast.  It was delicious and meaningful. Delicious because plant-based food has come a long way. The taste and texture of the tofu turkey were amazingly good, along with the plethora of sides and baked goodies. Meaningful because in doing so, we demonstrated reverence and respect for living creatures.

After dinner, we watched My Life as a Turkey, a documentary that won an Emmy award for outstanding nature programming. It tells the story of 16 wild turkeys raised from eggs to poults to adults by naturalist, Joe Hutto. I came away with an appreciation for the intelligence and sensitivity of these highly evolved social animals, who can memorize the details of an area of more than 1,000 acres.

The following day we undertook another family tradition and hiked into the woods in search of winterberries, which we found in abundance along the wetlands adjacent to a popular hiking trail. Then we returned with our bounty and used them to adorn Christmas wreaths, which we assembled on the tailgate of my pickup truck.

The last outdoor activity was a new one for us, a visit to a local tree farm on a sunny hillside with sweeping views of the valley below. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and we enjoyed the excitement of walking between rows upon rows of beautiful trees, groomed for just this time of the year. We admired balsams, spruces and douglas firs and finally made our choices.

But once my tree was cut, hauled back to the parking lot and paid for, a kind of melancholy set in for me. A sadness born out of the destruction of a living being. And so a conflict arose; between reverence for all living things and the familiar tradition of having a conifer in my home during this season. I later learned the six-foot balsam lying in my truck bed took 10 years to reach its height. I realized the sturdy tree would no longer shelter field mice and rabbits, would no longer harbor nests, nor provide a perching place for other feathered creatures. This tree would no longer be covered in morning dew that would burn off under the strong sunlight of the south facing hillside nor would it glow any more in the light of a full moon. And as I drove back to my home, I decided that I would do without a conifer in my home next year.

Later when I was back on the cape talking to my daughter on the phone, she reminded me that turkeys, chickens, pigs and cattle are also living beings, who often exist in less than humane circumstances. And thanks to her, I began to glimpse the connection between humans, plants, and animals in a more visceral sense. It left me wondering how I can best learn to support, appreciate, and celebrate my interconnectedness with all beings.