Frederic on the lake. Photo by Bradley Carleton

Thanksgiving means a lot of things to a lot of people. For most of us it’s about family and expressing gratitude for our blessings. For some those blessings are simply having a roof over our heads, food in the cupboard or enough wood for the stove or oil for the furnace.

In a time when our country is so divided that we have to be careful how we wish each other politically appropriate salutations, it is sometimes hard to remember that we are still one people. But if all of our hopes, dreams and values were boiled down to just one intrinsic element, I believe it would be the need for hope and faith. Even those who choose agnostic systems believe that there is nothing to believe in. That’s a belief too.

If we follow the premise that everyone believes in something and is aware of what some call “random coincidence” while others believe in miracles, it all boils down to the basic human need: the feeling that someone or something cares about our being—even if it is a fleeting moment of random coincidence.

Such was an experience that was delivered to me last year at this time.

I was out on the lake with a close friend (who ironically does not share the belief that there is anything that is looking out for humanity) to go goose hunting in a layout boat that sits only 10 to 12 inches above the water and where the hunter’s body is lower than the water level, giving them the advantage of not being easily seen by the migratory wizards of the flyway. The layout boat is carried on top of a larger “tender” boat to a location and anchored with decoys placed all around the layout. The layout boat is a one man “coffin” of sorts. The second, along with any other hunters, takes turns manning the tender boat to retrieve shot birds and ensure that the person in the layout is safe if winds should get too rough.

As I was lying in the layout boat I realized that, having consumed a considerable amount of hot caffeinated liquid, nature’s call sounded more like a freight train. I stepped out of the layout boat into about two feet of water and took care of my discomfort. Ashes to ashes and liquid to liquid.

As I stood there I looked down to notice a strange-looking underwater branch. It kind of looked like a drowned snake with a crooked head. I thought to myself, “Hmm, isn’t that cool?” and then I noticed a freshwater razorback clam. I picked it up and cracked it open to examine the life within the pearly shell. All of sudden I was overcome with grief. I had taken an animal’s life with no intent of using it. I felt horrible. Now many of us have cut our feet on these bivalves and cursed them for the pain they’ve inflicted, so why was I feeling guilty? I apologized out loud to the clam and placed it back in the sandy bottom, then crawled back in the boat.

I lay there for hours while the wind picked up and we decided that we had to curtail our hunt. My partner, John, picked me up. We loaded the layout boat and decoys back into the tender and pulled out of the half-mile wide Maquam Bay, bucking the waves back to the access, where we prepared for departure.

That’s when I realized that I did not have my truck keys in my possession. And on that same key chain were the keys to the safe of my employer, who clearly state in their policy that losing keys to the safe room could result in termination of employment.

We tore everything apart—all the decoys came out of their bags, boats were emptied of PFDs, guns, ammo boxes, and every piece of clothing and every pocket was searched to no avail. Which meant just one thing; I must have dropped the keys in the lake where I exited the layout boat two miles away in the half-mile wide Maquam Bay of the Missisquoi Wildlife Refuge.

The wind had picked up to a solid 20 knots. What would we do? What should we do? What must we do?

We knew it was a dangerous expedition to ride the waves back to the bay. My partner, John, pilots 747 jets for an international airline, and I know that he, in spite of his lack of faith, is one of the most dependable and capable captains of a vessel—be it in the skies or the water. So I placed my faith in him to get us there.

We set out and traveled south about one mile when the boat motor began acting up. It was running on just one cylinder, and we began taking water over the stern as we spun against the wind.

It was at this point that I turned toward my own faith: the belief that, as a part of nature created by an entity that I refer to as the Great Spirit, I will humble myself and let go of any expectations or fear.

As we traveled slowly across the bay, the winds continued to create waves that in the wake of the boat looked so powerful that I sensed it would be best to worship it and accept whatever it had in mind for us. I began looking closely at the wake and noticed that when the sun was behind the wave it glowed a gorgeous sage green with the tops blowing off in the wind like lacy froth. Each droplet had its own part in the wave. Each drop of water that made up this entire bay belonged to this universe. As did I.

When we got into the inner bay the waves abated somewhat, and the shallow water allowed me to exit the tender boat. John asked me “Does anything look familiar to you?” We had pulled in to set up earlier, in the dark. I replied “That weed bed against the shoreline kinda’ looks familiar, but I’m not sure.” I told him that I would just begin walking in the direction that I thought looked like where I might have lain through the early dawn.

I walked about 200 yards when I looked down and noticed a goofy looking stick that looked like a snake with a crooked head. I said out loud “I’ll be darned! There’s that funny looking stick.” My eyes then caught a slight glint of sunlight reflecting off of an object in the two-foot deep water.

I again spoke out loud, “And there’s my keys.”

Beside them was a razorback clam. After retrieving my keys, I picked up the clam, held it to my lips and kissed its little foot as it retreated back inside the shell.

Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter.org, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.