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Ever the dutiful Canadians, we returned to Nova Scotia for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday this year.  If you haven’t read any of the posts I have written of late, you can read about why and when the holiday is celebrated in the great white North in “First Frost.”

It is very different down here in Durham.  There are great piles of golden leaves scattered across the lawns, but there are colorful leaves still clinging to the trees.  Fall is a beautiful time of year here and it seems to last forever. American Thanksgiving has come upon us like a Macy’s parade, with much fanfare and advance publicity.

The day after Thanksgiving triggers the frenzy of Christmas shopping, of course, but Thanksgiving itself celebrates family gathering and food.  We seem to think the holiday is a license to stuff ourselves after we have stuffed the turkey. In the days when our Nova Scotia house was built, the holiday itself would have required a great deal of food gathering. Those days are long gone and the entire holiday season can now be weighted with the freight of gourmand guilt.

The turkey is an indigenous animal, although the wild turkey is so wary and elusive it seems like a distant relative to the huge birds in the supermarket.  Barbara Kingsolver spent months trying to interest her young turkeys in sex.  The miracle referred to in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is the natural insemination and hatching of a handful of chicks. Now that artificial insemination has become the norm, the species seems to have lost all interest in sex.  The male who showed the most interested in reproduction imprinted on her husband’s leg. I have never eaten a wild turkey, but we did have one that was capable of walking in the farmyard.  They are not such a rarity in Nova Scotia.

For the last few weeks here in Durham, the temperature has been fluctuating a fair bit, but yesterday it hovered around 60 degrees F in the afternoon (15.5 degrees C).  I’m going to risk the wrath of my Canadian readers by admitting to a luxurious indulgence that will be hard to come by up North.  My wife and I went swimming– in an outdoor pool. The water temperature was 80 degrees F (about 26.6 C).  The Duke Faculty Club lap pool open stays open until the middle of next week, so if any of you are desperate…..

The long Fall here in North Carolina is absolutely lovely, but the days are getting short and we are running out of our allotted time.  The blog should pick up steam again in January.  We’re heading for a place I haven’t been in forty years, back when bell bottoms were in fashion, the Beatles were breaking up and the Rolling Stones did free concerts.

Stay tuned for your ever faithful reporter, writing from London.

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Despite the fact that we were able to stay in Nova Scotia longer this summer than any of the previous three years, when the time came to fly South, it seemed that the season had been entirely too short.  When it dawned on us that Canadian Thanksgiving coincided with fall break in the U.S. academic year, we booked tickets back to Nova Scotia.  For those of you who don’t know about Canadian Thanksgiving, Wikipedia should set you straight.

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean.  Frobisher’s Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest but for a safe return to Newfoundland. During his search for the Northwest Passage, he avoided the later fate of Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin. (Australian readers may recognize Franklin, Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania before his ill-fated adventure). Frobisher’s ceremony in 1578 was one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations by Europeans in North America.

French settlers crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1604. They held feasts of thanks in the settlement of Port Royal, in what they called Acadie. They formed ‘The Order of Good Cheer’ and shared their food with their First Nations neighbours. After the Seven Year’s War ended in 1763 handing over of New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax, held a special day of Thanksgiving.

At the end of the American Revolution, settlers from the colonies who remained loyal to Great Britain fled the newly independent United States for Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.

The Wikipedia write up on the Canadian Thanksgiving is somewhat thin on information, but it seems likely that celebrating in October rather than November has to do with the earlier onset of winter in most parts of Canada. In the Annapolis Valley, where we are, harvest was in full swing when we arrived on October 8.  The valley is the bread basket of Nova Scotia.  On the weekends, urban dwellers from the big city (Halifax) drive up in droves to gawk at vegetables for sale at farm stands and look over the pumpkins in the fields.

There are pick-your-own pumpkin patches, and the selection process seems to take on the import of a religious rite.  In the nearby town of Windsor, a farmer named Howard Dill became so obsessed by the squash that he bred the biggest pumpkins on the planet for four years in a row.  His seeds, called “Dill’s Atlantic Giant,” have produced specimens weighing 1689 lbs (767 kilos).  He died two years ago, but his unstinting efforts brought a boom in tourism to the town.

For a dozen years now, the town has held a pumpkin regatta, in which adventurous mariners carve their “personal vegetable vessels” to race against one another on the Lake Pesaquid, an arm of the Bay of Fundy.  I have failed to attend the event every single year, but it is on my list.  This year it was held on Sunday, the day we had selected for our own particular family Thanksgiving.  And I was the chief cook.  So I’ve inserted some else’s photo.  It’s a good one.

I enjoy the harvest aspect of the season, but for me it is a melancholy time.  Winter is on its way, after all.  I will admit that its harbinger is sheer magic.  It happened one morning a few days after Thanksgiving.  I looked out the window and there it was– frost on the field.  It was beautiful.

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