Gratitude and Grief: Thanksgiving 2021 Aboard Cramer

Author: So Hess, B Watch, Mount Holyoke College

Rendezvous Bay at dawn.

Ship's Log

Noon Position
18°18.741’N x 064°46.272’W

Taffrail log
38.46 nm

Weather/Wind/Sail Plan
hot with morning squall/anchored

Rendezvous Bay, St. John, USVI

Souls on Board

We’re finally underway and started our island-hopping snorkel adventure! Long days are ahead of us for sure: My day started this morning at 0530 with the dawn watch, and is filled with classes, rescue drills, and even a snorkel trip later. We have four new sites to complete our reef data in one week, which is sure to be packed with data collection and processing, not to mention sailing the boat!

Yesterday we sailed from Christiansted on St. Croix and anchored in Rendezvous Bay on St John’s Island. My watch completed the first sail strikes for anchoring: Kate was our bowsprit lookout this watch (who we are SO thrilled to have sailing with us!) while Emily, Amadi, Kate, Abby and I tackled the main staysail down into a securely latched burrito at sunset. Whew! And I thought folding the American flag was hard.

Rendezvous Bay at dawn.

Rendezvous Bay at dawn.

Even little things like the seeing the American flag raised today makes me, a student of Indigenous descent, think twice about how I got here and how I fit into the context of this boat. The dynamics between colonialism and sea voyaging have certainly been at the forefront of my mind from the beginning.

Our Caribbean cruise track takes us through traditional Taíno waters and islands. If you didn’t know, the Taíno people are still alive today,  organizing for federal recognition in places like Puerto Rico and on St. Croix of the USVI. If it was not for a global pandemic, we would have had also had the chance to dock in Dominica and meet the Kalinago people who still reside on their ancestral homelands. As an environmental studies major focusing on colonialism and historical ecology, this region holds many layers I’m still exploring.

I knew this cruise track through the Caribbean would be heavy on my heart. The “West Indies” were the first places to be misrepresented by Columbus and some of the first to feel the genocide of European colonization, not to mention the deep involvement of this region within the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There’re only a few people on this ship who think about the ghosts scattered around these seas.

But here I am anyway, aboard “one of those colonizer ships” as one of my landlubber friends would put it. It’s warranted a lot of reflection on my part, and I balance these dark histories with my own ancestor’s colonial history—all while continuing my academics and learning to sail. Talk about an exhausting day!

This day called Thanksgiving is the heaviest of them all. My peers are getting excited for feasting and celebrating their blessings, and yes, these things I can get behind. I grew up with this holiday as well. Yet the origin of this holiday is deeply colonial, a celebration of land theft and the erasure of my relatives.

For many Americans, this is a day of football, turkey, and family memories. We are reminded of all that we have to love and cherish. But for many others, this is a deep day of mourning and grief. We aren’t separate from these histories; we are just continuations of them over time. This year I feel particularly involved in this complicated holiday, especially having lived for five weeks on the SEA Campus amidst luxurious Cape Cod properties on stolen Mashpee Wampanoag land. This tribe is featured in the popular American Thanksgiving myth, and last November expressed that they deeply regret the hospitality their ancestors extended towards settlers during their first winter. They mourn the resulting cultural genocide every year.

I fall somewhere in the middle between celebrating and mourning. I can’t place what this day means to my heart yet. Last night I lay on the furled sails gazing at the stars atop the science lab. I thought for a long time about how to speak adequately to my shipmates about his holiday. I considered reading aloud the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address for the dinner table, which I recommend to anyone reading this blog, but I think I want to introduce my shipmates to something else instead.

Tonight, before we feast on the special meal Katie and Jackie will be preparing for us, I will talk about what it means to truly express thanks. A popular tradition I’ve participated in many times is to share the things we are grateful for at the dinner table. This vocalization is so important to ground the self, practice gratitude, and encourage others to do so as well. In a culture of casual “thank you”, Thanksgiving is one day of reverent

I want to tell my shipmates that in my ancestor’s native language of Quechua, there is no word for “thank you”. It is impossible to express thanks in only a couple words. In order to truly express gratitude towards anyone or anything, you must show them in your actions. You must go farther than speaking, you must show up in reciprocity, give something back for the blessing you have been given.

When I am thankful for a teacher, I become the best student I can be, giving them my most focused attention and accountability.

When I am thankful for oceans and magical kelp forests of my childhood, I resolve to learn their ecology intimately and work towards their conservation and restoration.

When I am thankful for this opportunity to explore the Caribbean Sea so intimately, I devote myself to learning the true history of these lands and praying for the ghosts in these waters.

Thank you, reader, for your attention and consideration. Thank you to Amadi, Maya, Mo, and Kyaralind for discussing these issues with me and reminding me I’m not alone in my thoughts. I hope you all feast and count your blessings tonight. Sending my love to my mom, Papa, Nicholas, KJ, Abuela, Sonya, Natalia, Greg, Turtle and Bunny.

So Hess
Mount Holyoke College ’22
Doris Duke Conservation Fellow @ University of Washington Seattle

Contact: Douglas Karlson, Director of Communications, 508-444-1918 |

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