The best ones always seemed to be at the top of the tree. By the time they’d fallen to the ground and we happened to stumble upon them they’d usually be dried out, and sometimes even rotten.
So we’d try to shuffle our way up the trunks of trees to get one. But this was really tricky! You see, the smooth sides of a coconut tree are not ideal for climbing. We’d clasp either side of the trunk with both hands and the soles of our bare feet to shimmy our way up. This was only successful if the tree was really short, or it happened to grow at enough of an angle that gravity wasn’t entirely against us.
On some occasions luck would be on our side and a fresh, ripe and juicy coconut would present itself before us - fallen from the tree, yet not yet shrivelled and dried. Those were moments of pure delight and my sisters and I would spend hours pulling off the outer husk to get at what we were really looking for inside.
Finally we’d reach the round inner nut, and crack it open right between the three “eyes” on one end. Then we’d joyously celebrate as we'd finally indulge in drinking the sweet coconut water and savouring the inner white “meat” that we’d scrape off with our teeth.
I don’t remember saying the words “thank you” but I remember the feeling in my heart of utter gratitude towards the tree and what it was providing for us. The food. The fun-filled experience. A memory together with my sisters. A difficult task that brought us reward. And awe and wonder for the gifts the natural world can offer.
That feeling of gratitude extended beyond the coconut tree too. I also found it swimming in the ocean, with the waves lapping at my chin and the variety of sea life surrounding me - fish, rays, eels, sometimes dolphins, and the spiny urchins that made sure you watched where you put your feet.
I found it in the rain too… the drops creating what we called “Dalmatians on the driveway.” In fact as a child my favourite time to be outdoors was in the rain. It’s still much the same for me even today.
I found it in the mulberries, bananas, and mango fruit that grew in our yard. They provided our breakfasts and our afternoon snacks, often eaten straight from the trees!
I found it in the birds that always seemed to have something to say. To this day I can still hear in my mind the call of the myna bird which sounded to me like someone shouting “Weirdo! Weirdo! Weirdo!” over and over.
I found it in the woodlice or “roly polys” that delighted me when they’d roll up into a ball. And in the geckos whose tiny bodies deceived how loud of a noise they can actually make.
I found it in the sunshine that soaked my skin in warmth and felt perfect paired with a calm breeze.
And I especially found it in the moon and the stars when clear skies would remind me of just how small we really are.
These feelings of gratitude never really went away as I grew older, and eventually moved away from Hawaii. But I do think they were quieted as I entered adulthood and a culture that viewed the natural world more as “resources” than friends, or even family. A community of beings in which we’re a part of, and depend on.
And eventually as my wanderings around the world have brought me to the homeland of the Indigenous Algonquin-Anishinaabe in what is currently known as Ottawa Canada, I’m taught more deeply of what it means to embed gratitude for all we’re a part of into culture. Every Indigenous event or gathering is opened with a Thanksgiving Address. This is a way to give thanks before all else. To prioritize the acknowledgement of our intertwining relationships with the wider world and our responsibility to care for it.
It is a powerful practice and worldview that has very much influenced my own. However, it does not feel appropriate for me to perform a Thanksgiving Address. I am not Indigenous and this practice is not mine to take.
So I am working to create my own ways of expressing gratitude. Of remembering to say thank you. Before all else.
You may not have coconuts, ocean, and geckos where you are (or perhaps you do!), but here’s an invitation to consider the waters, trees, birds, animals, fruits and medicines, and so much more that are gifts from the earth wherever you live now. And to give thanks.
To learn more about the Thanksgiving Address you can watch this video from the Onondaga Historical Association: