Winter holiday vacations are times with family for most in America. Americans have a variety of holiday traditions, depending on family ethnic and religious backgrounds. Some of our ancestors hail from northern Europe; eastern and southern Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Pacific Islands contributed to our melting pot as well.

My personal antecedents happen to be mostly northern European. My father said “Dutch, Devil, dog, Irish and English,” but there were German, French and who knows what else, plus non-Europeans including Native Americans.

The Native Americans’ ancestors got here from eastern Asia via Alaska in an early wave of migration sometime around 15,000 years BPE (Before Present Era), according to best available data. I doubt that there is any one correct, American way to celebrate anything.

Suddenly, according to some modern Americans, we are supposed to express our holiday well wishes to strangers, acquaintances, friends and family with uniformity that bears no relationship to our wonderful diversity. Oh, well. I run into so many feelings of ill-will that I am delighted whenever anyone wishes me a happy time, whether in the winter holiday season or not.

Like other Americans, I celebrate with family, and I celebrate the universal ideal of “Peace on earth, good will toward all people.” Oops! I included women and children, though the phraseology in at least one version of the Bible says “men.” Now I’m in trouble. For that matter, I suppose I am in trouble for using the universal dating term of BPE in agreement with anthropologists and archeologists, rather than the formerly popular BC (Before Christ).

But whose version of political correctness to follow isn’t really my concern today. I spent the bulk of my winter holiday vacation (luckily it’s got a few more days to run, though some seem to object to including all winter holidays as a universally enjoyed “holiday season”) with family, traveling to Texas to visit sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and in-laws. I then wound up at home with a married daughter and her recently wed husband. Wow! I have truly, greatly enjoyed this time with loved ones. I am genuinely grateful, and if I express my thanks in my own way, it’s no skin off your nose, or shouldn’t be.

One of my delights in winter is spending time outdoors with family, and that reminds me every moment of how much I have to be deeply thankful for. This go round, we enjoyed Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, with its massive pecan and bald cypress trees, and my California son-in-law was able to experience picking up pecans from the ground for the first time. Small pleasures that hearken to roots deserve to be taken, even if they lack the urgency of survival that compelled folks toward them in years past.

I was greatly pleased to be able to introduce my son-in-law to this activity, though we didn’t really take many pecans at all. The pecan trees in Brackenridge Park are “natives,” and another part of our pleasure came from observing the great variety of shapes and sizes of the nuts, a consequence of the genetic differences that preserve the evolutionary history of the pecan tree, and that provided for the artificial selection leading to the modern “paper shell” varieties. They reminded me of human diversity, both genetic and cultural, and then I thought of our need to honor that as well.

I was saddened in Brackenridge Park, however, and reminded of our societal failings to sustain ourselves through honoring and preserving the very nature that gave us birth and that has kept us going through our five million years or so of differentiation from other closely related primates in our modern form. As we walked along the San Antonio River toward its head springs, the stone-walled banks that modern people have used to confine it in an urban oasis (here I’m speaking of the actual San Antonio River, not the artificially constructed channel that wends through downtown S.A. as “The River Walk”) gave way to a small stretch of natural channel.

Finally, we arrived at one of the springs, which collectively bears the original Spanish name of the river, San Pedro. It was at these springs that Spanish soldiers, priests and civilian explorers first camped in the part of Texas that became San Antonio.

The springs and the river they form have nourished some 300 years of Spanish, Mexican and finally American civilization, providing water for drinking, cooking, irrigating fields, bathing, taking pleasure. This is not the famed River Walk, which flows with treated sewage to make sure that water floats tourists’ boats and that diners enjoy aquatic scenes while they ingest food provided by chain restaurants.

This is the San Pedro, that created and supported San Antonio from its earliest times, including Native American settlements for at least 4,000 years before. The spring we saw was strewn with trash and garbage and contained non-native aquatic weeds. Its neglect was evident.

San Antonio is proud of its river, but the channel that draws tourists isn’t even the river. Perhaps the city should take pride in the springs and river that gave it life. Maybe that would be un-American. Maybe the commercial river is the real one.

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