For the last 14 years I’ve spent Thanksgiving in the woods of Oklahoma. Every year since my husband was born, no I’m not being dramatic–he went out there as an infant–he’s gone to the “hills” for 9 or so days to hunt and camp on the same piece of land. This tradition includes the entire small, Oklahoma town he grew up in. The town quite literally shuts down. See it’s more than camping. The Saturday before Thanksgiving is opening day of rifle season (deer season for those who don’t know) and nearly every family in this southern town has at least one hunter that intends to be in a deer stand opening morning.
Naturally when we went got married it was assumed I would be absorbed into this tradition. In the first 5+ years of our marriage I kicked and screamed that Thanksgiving was meant for donning fancy clothes, watching college football, and eating mashed potatoes and dry turkey on priceless china like everyone else in America. This was one tradition my husband refused to budge on, hold on give him some grace for a minute. Not only had he spent his childhood Thanksgivings in these hills, his parents did, and his grandparents did before them (on the same piece of land), so the tradition runs deep.
When we had our daughter I was determined she would experience a “normal” Thanksgiving. Again, I wasn’t seeing what I was gaining in this tradition. See the hills have no internet, running water, heat–just nature. This is far from glamping. We bring our own barrels of water to refill our campers and take showers every other day and to obviously use the bathroom–that’s a non-negotiable area for me, I am not going in the woods. Yes it sounds terrible, but it’s actually not, I now look forward to it each fall. I relented and my daughter spent her first Thanksgiving in the woods. And it was so much fun. We all slept so deeply and weren’t trapped by technology and television. We got dirty, used our imaginations to play, and read LOTS of books.
Fast forward to today and we haven’t missed a Thanksgiving in the hills of Oklahoma. What I learned was how important it was to quite literally unplug, get dirty, and work hard for your meal, well sort of–we still brought snacks. Let me give you a more clear picture of what life is actually like for those 9 days in the woods. My husband’s whole family camps together in a carved out piece of the woods, 45 minutes from civilization. Each family has their own camper, my husband’s parents, our family, and my husband’s brother’s family. The campers circle around a huge campfire pit also encircled by lawn chairs for the 13 of us. Bikes, electronic toy cars, all the camouflage you’d ever need, and plenty of old VHS movies, oh and sweets. While the cousins wait on the men to come in for lunch and the food to be ready they can be found playing checkers, Rummikub, and a good heated game of War.
Now don’t think we don’t eat a FULL Thanksgiving dinner out there, because we most definitely do. It’s a FEAST. My sweet mother-in-law cooks the turkey all night in her little camper oven that simultaneously warms her camper. The best part is opening her door for morning coffee and smelling the pleasant aroma of cooked turkey, even if it is 7:00 a.m. The coffee is made in an old tin coffee pot that percolates on my mother-in-law’s camper stove and topped with a generous helping of creamer. Arguably the best coffee I’ve ever had. Each wife (my sister-in-law and I) is responsible for sides (mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, etc.) and each family brings at LEAST two pies. The tables are set for grazing and paper plates and plastic utensils are our china, quickly thrown in the fire pit when done–my kind of easy clean up.
Is it barbaric? Some might say so yes, but it’s magic to me. At night the city lights are too far to blur the beauty of the stars and the view is breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it. Seeing and experiencing moments like that leave me with no doubt that we serve a magnificent Creator and that our week in the woods is so incredibly worth it. This time-honored tradition has now fully absorbed me and my little family and I am thrilled to be able to give them a different kind of Thanksgiving that immerses them in the beauty of nature and play with their cousins. Memories I know they’ll cherish forever and I will too.