After a treacherous, miserable, 66-day crossing, the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock at the beginning of winter 1620. Since they arrived so late, they remained on their ship, the Mayflower, until the weather improved. When, that spring, they finally set foot on solid land, they swore they’d never, ever get on a boat, of any type, for any reason, ever again.
Soon after, they were greeted by friendly locals. These people, who’d lived in the Plymouth Rock area for thousands of years, graciously taught the Pilgrims how to survive. They showed them how to plant corn, how to extract sugar from Maple trees, how to identify poisonous plants, and they showed them how to fish from a kayak.
“Oh no, no, no,” the Pilgrims said, shaking their heads. “We will fish from the banks. We are never, ever getting on the water ever again. It’s much too dangerous.”
The indigenous people chuckled. “If you treat her with respect,” they said, “she will treat you with respect.”
Then the Pilgrims chuckled. “How do you respect something that’s not human?”
The indigenous people looked at each other, puzzled. Some of the wiser ones took a small step backwards, away from the Pilgrims, realizing these people might not be worth the effort. However, most of the others thought they’d misunderstood the Pilgrims, blaming it on the language barrier.
“You respect her by learning her moods,” they explained. “Don’t go out on the water when she is angry. Sometimes she is playful, but those times are for only the most experienced paddlers. Don’t bother her during her winter rest unless you have appropriate gear. Don’t ever, ever take more of her gifts than you and your family can use. And always wear your PFD (Pilgrim Flotation Device).”
At first the Pilgrims stayed away from the kayaks. But soon, their curiosity overcame their fear. They couldn’t believe how comfortable and stable these kayaks were—perfect for exploring the shoreline, getting to the best fishing spots, drifting close enough to birds to sketch the smallest details of their feathers (this was before photography had caught on), perfect for watching the sunset over the bay, and perfect for slipping away from the family for a little “me” time.
They were so happy with this new activity and so thankful to their new friends for introducing them to kayaking that, just before storing their boats for the winter, they invited the indigenous people to join them in a great celebration.
For three days, they had races and relays and played kayak-tag with a football-shaped mass of cornhusks. They had paddle carving competitions and catch-and-release tournaments. They swapped gear. They ate, played music, and danced. The final evening was a full moon, and they all paddled out to watch the sun set and the moon rise, big and orange, over their celebration. Then they sat around the fire and, as the embers floated up into the night sky, told tall tales about big fish, dangerous adventures, and an elusive hairy man-beast with large feet.
Throughout that next winter, on the most bitter days, the happy memories of their time on the water and this great celebration kept them warm and smiling. They knew, without a doubt, as soon as she gave her permission, they’d be back on the water that next summer. And they also knew their end-of-season get-together would become an annual tradition.
This was the very first Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving from Coastal Kayak!