Photo courtesy Wikipedia  Simplified anatomy of the structural components used in bird flight.  If you prefer eating white meat at Thanksgiving, you're eating the turkey's pectoralis and supracoracoideus muscles

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Simplified anatomy of the structural components used in bird flight. If you prefer eating white meat at Thanksgiving, you're eating the turkey's pectoralis and supracoracoideus muscles

An outdoor view: On being thankful

Something I’m very thankful for is that I wasn’t present for what’s now called the “first Thanksgiving.”

In September of 1620, the Mayflower left Plymouth, England carrying 102 passengers who were intent upon finding a better life in the New World. The dangerous crossing of the stormy North Atlantic took 66 days. By the time the small ship reached what’s now known as Cape Cod, the passengers were either sick, exhausted or both.

It was late in November when these pitiful “Pilgrims” arrived, and snow lay on the ground. The weather was too harsh for them to do much work ashore, so most them spent the winter aboard the ship. To give you some idea of their miserable and perilous situation, only half of the colonists and crew lived to see the spring.

With the arrival of warmer weather, the survivors left the relative safety of the Mayflower to begin the work of establishing the first European village in what was to become New England. The ship and what was left of its crew set sail for England.

The disease, exposure and harsh conditions aboard ship were nothing compared to what awaited the colonists ashore. For many years, the English, Spanish, French and Vikings had been sailing along the coast of North America, exploring and “discovering” it. Trouble is, it had been discovered long before. The original occupants, American Natives, resented being taken as slaves, and feared the Europeans’ diseases, for which they had no immunity

In the spring of 1621, when the pitiful survivors of the Mayflower had to go ashore and face the unknown, they must’ve feared for their lives. By that time, they surely would’ve known how earlier-arriving Europeans had mistreated the natives. What they couldn’t have known was what the natives might do by way of retaliation. The fact that their personal belongings included armor, muskets, powder, shot and swords is telling, as is that the Mayflower’s master ordered four of the ship’s guns to be removed from the ship to fortify the new colony.

I’ve long thought that, if the Natives had had guns in the 16th and 17th centuries, the United States of America would not exist. Even as it was, survival was iffy for the Pilgrims, and they must’ve known it and feared for their lives. At Roanoke, Virginia, established in 1585, the entire population — 90 men, 17 women and 11 children — vanished without a trace.

It was a great stroke of luck for the Pilgrims that they met Squanto. Squanto was a member of the Patuxet band of the Wampanoag, an influential tribe during the time the English were settling along the east coast.

He had been kidnapped and sold as a slave at least twice, and had lived in England for a time, long enough to learn the language. In 1619, when he finally was able to return home, he found that almost all of his tribe had been wiped out, probably by smallpox. A year later, when Squanto crossed paths with the pathetic Pilgrims, it was nothing short of Providence.

Squanto was just what the Pilgrims needed. He showed them how to hunt the local game, how to catch the local fish, and what to plant in their gardens. He became their interpreter and guide. He introduced them to the local Natives. In short, he saved their lives.

Thanks to Squanto, in November of 1621, only a year after the Pilgrim’s arrival, , what is now called the “first Thanksgiving” was held. There’s scarcely any record of what was eaten at this three-day harvest feast, but it likely included ducks, geese, swans and turkey, as well as cod, striped bass, bluefish, mussels, clams and lobsters, all of which were abundant and easily harvested in that area. Side dishes probably included something made from gourds, from pumpkin and from dried and ground corn, all of which were commonly eaten by the Natives of the area.

I’m guessing that passenger pigeons were eaten at that first Thanksgiving. Now extinct, Ectopistes migratorius was known to have been plentiful in the 17th century. Well into the 19th century, it was the most abundant bird in North America, possibly the world. What’s certain is that there was no sugar for sweet desserts, and there were no potatoes, either white or sweet.

A few years ago, I visited “Plimoth Plantation,” the restored Massachusetts village on the shore of Cape Cod Bay.

While standing behind the crudely built fortification, I tried to imagine what it was like to have been there in the 1620s, when survival for a day was uncertain, let alone living until the ripe old age of, say, 50. Just thinking about some of the hardships of that time made me thankful that I wasn’t even “in the game” until more than 300 years later.


Les Palmer can be reached at

More in Life

Carly Garay’s “Earth” is one of the works in her “The Art of Ancestor Veneration,” on display through Oct. 30, 2021, at the Homer Council on the Arts in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Garay lifts the veil between living and dead with “Art of Ancestor Veneration”

HCOA show invites people to submit own images of ancestors at central altar.

Chewy soft pretzels are easy to make at home. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Penisula Clarion)
Chewy soft pretzels are easy to make at home. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Sisterhood and soft pretzels

Our favorite snack there, the one I know will always make her smile, was a soft pretzel with cheese sauce.

The welcome sign for the City of Kenai, as seen in this city Facebook page photo.
History with a sense of humor, Part 1

The first part of a two-part collection of humorous tales gleaned from old newspapers on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Ward off Halloween’s mystical monsters with these garlic-infused cheesy shells and pepper sauce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Tasty Halloween

Keep spooky creatures at bay with garlic-infused shells and pepper sauce.

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Let there be lights!

When I stopped in at one of our local stores, I didn’t cringe when I saw all the holiday decorations on display.

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.