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Thanksgiving in the Field: A Day of Gratitude and Connection

The Open Sky Team

As the major holidays arrive at Open Sky, we find simple but meaningful ways to mark and celebrate each occasion in wilderness. For students, being away from home during the holidays, often for the first time, can be significant. Open Sky Thanksgiving celebrations are filled with opportunities for sharing tasty food, thoughtful conversation, and fun, while providing comfort through community. 

During the holidays, Open Sky’s healthy and organic fare is supplemented with seasonal foods to celebrate the occasion. For Thanksgiving, the holiday most associated with delicious meals, each team receives a turkey that is slow-cooked in Dutch ovens throughout the day. An array of autumn vegetables, cranberry sauce, green beans, and pumpkin pie also grace the menu, with everyone chipping in to prepare traditional dishes. As with everyday meal options, Open Sky accommodates students’ dietary restrictions on holidays, ensuring vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Not only do the holiday feasts taste wonderful but preparing them also provides a chance to slow down, tune in, and practice mindfulness, teamwork, and wilderness skills. 

Holidays like Thanksgiving are typically marked with special events and games, such as the annual “bust-off,” a good-natured competition to see which team can build a bow drill fire the fastest. Each team arrives with its best spindles, fire boards, bows, and nesting. The desert buzzes with energy and activity as the teams race one another. Cheers and laughter erupt when the first flames appear. 

Holiday celebrations typically culminate in a community-wide talent show. Talent show acts range from satirical and playful to contemplative and poignant. Students often create choreographed dances, skits, and songs about life at Open Sky. Others have shared original poetry and heartfelt speeches. This opportunity for creative expression builds a strong sense of community, lightness, and support among students and guides, on a day when many are missing their families. 

Thanksgiving was the first day in my life I felt supported and safe enough to get up in front of a group and share my own voice. For the talent show, I got up and sang in front of the entire Open Sky community. I’ll never forget the empowerment and love I felt on that day. I never knew a group of strangers in the desert could make me feel so at home.

As the sun goes down and the stars come out, Open Sky teams enjoy a delicious apple and pumpkin pie treat while sharing “gratitudes.” A daily practice at Open Sky, gratitudes provides the opportunity to share what students feel grateful for–family, friendship, the desert, food, fire, life, and fresh starts. On Thanksgiving, this tradition carries special meaning. 

Each year during Thanksgiving, our hearts are filled with gratitude: for the students on their journey of self-discovery; for the parents who trust us to care for their children during the holidays; for the field guides away from their own families in order to create an impactful experience for our students; for the beauty of the nature that surrounds us; and for the blessings of each new day. 

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Open Sky! 

November 22nd, 2023

The Open Sky Team