Thanksgiving isn't about selecting the largest turkey in the store, engaging in road rage or aisle anger, or preparing for the Black Friday sales.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing--sharing gratitude, love and a meal.
UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that a growing body of research confirms that an ounce of gratitude is worth a pound of cure.
A feature story posted on the UC Davis Medical Center relates that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. Says Emmons: "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide."
Practicing gratitude also affects behavior, he says. The UC Davis article points out that studies have shown that "grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life."
Emmons' expertise on gratitude resulted in a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject.
In the insect world, what better day to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing the nectar of a passionflower (Passiflora) with three honey bees?
Table for four, please.
The three "F's" win hands-down: family, friends and food.
But "insects" should definitely added to that list. They are among the tiniest of critters on this planet, but think of their importance in our lives and in our ecosystems.
As British entomologist-zoologist George McGavin, author, academician, explorer and television presenter wrote in an article published in 2004 in The Guardian: "They are the most successful multi-cellular life form on the planet...Insects have endured for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived the numerous global upheavals and catastrophes that spelled the end for much greater and grander creatures and they will continue to be a major part of the Earth's fauna for many more millennia."
McGavin, an honorary research associate at both the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Department of Zoology, points out that insects are "the food of the world."
"Most of the higher animal species on Earth eat insect--they are the food of the world," he writes in his piece on Why I Love Insects. "All of the blue tit chicks in the British Isles alone consume 35bn caterpillars before they become adult. A single pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat species in the UK, has to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 insects most nights to stay alive."
McGavin also emphasizes the importance of pollinators and recyclers, that "we depend on bees for perhaps as much as a third of the food we eat....As recyclers, flies and beetles devour carcasses and clear prodigious quantities of dung every day."
We met George McGavin in July 2012 at a sunflower field in Winters. He and his crew were there to film a documentary on ultimate swarms, featuring Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Gary, an author, scientist and now a retired professional bee wrangler, clued him in on bee behavior.
Like many scientists, McGavin loves to share his enthusiasm for insects, something we all need to appreciate more and to support as much as we can. For example, the Entomological Society of America launched a Chrysalis Fund to bring insect education into the classroom. According to the website, it's "supported by donors dedicated to the mission of enhancing insect education for K-12 students. Teachers and educators with creative ideas for insect-themed programs or projects are encouraged to apply for funding." (On a side note, UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal donated his $1000 honorarium from the recent ESA Founders' Memorial Award Lecture to the Chrysalis Fund. See YouTube video.)
So, what are we thankful for? Family, friends and food, for sure.
And the list also includes...insects.
It's Thanksgiving Day, and what better day to stop and be thankful for not only family and friends, but for the beauty around us.
That would include insects, including the stunning Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
Last summer we enjoyed watching a very gravid female, with a three-to-four-inch wingspan, nectaring on a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) in our Vacaville pollinator garden.
She also nectared on Verbena before departing--probably to lay her eggs on a nearby host plant, liquidambar (sweet gum) or a sycamore.
For just a few minutes, the Western tiger swallowtail graced our pollinator garden with her breathtaking beauty. We are thankful for her presence, and the presence of all the pollinators, past, present and future, in our little pollinator garden.
"Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse," points out the Pollinator Partnership. "Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food."
“Gimme more, gimme more, gimme more!” seems to be the mantra of the rich and famous and the faux rich and famous.
From my perspective: It's better to watch a monarch caterpillar chew on milkweed leaves than to yearn for a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. Frankly, I wouldn't know a Jimmy Choo if it stepped on my hiking boots. But I would know if a monarch fluttered down and touched me on the hand.
I cannot recognize the fragrance of the world's most expensive perfume, Annick Goutal Eau d'Hadrien – $441.18 per ounce—I looked it up. But I do know the aroma of a honeysuckle beckoning a honey bee.
I wouldn't know a Louis Vuitton designer bag from or a Chanel but I do know this: the old and tattered camera bag slung over my shoulder is a faithful workhorse with a purpose.
I wouldn't know Dolce & Gabban jeans from Robert Cavall but I do admire the genes of a monarch butterfly and a honey bee.
I wouldn't know a princess-cut diamond from an emerald-cut diamond but I do know that the shape of a lady beetle is a cut above.
For me, the glow of a diamond on a finger pales at the glow of a monarch on milkweed. “Precious” is not the stone but what just eclosed from a chrysalis.
So, today as we give thanks with our family and friends, this question begs for answer: Do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us?
Life should not be about pursuing and protecting our materialistic possessions but pursuing and protecting our passions. Such as exploring the wonderful world of insects...
Today is Thanksgiving.
As we give thanks and reflect on a day set aside to be grateful, we realize that not all is great in the world of haves and have-nots, the generous and the greedy, and troublemakers and peacemakers.
Miscommunications turn into misunderstandings. Agreements turn into disagreements. Harmony turns into hostility. Like an open wound, tensions bulge, crack and fester. Life saddens, disappoints and crushes us.
But today is Thanksgiving, a day to be grateful. All around us, people are giving thanks, sharing memories, shoring up the holiday spirit, and feasting on turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. Among the many things we are grateful for: we are grateful that we are not a turkey.
Last summer as a praying mantis "prayed" for dinner in our bee garden, we were thankful we were not a bee.