The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 28, 2008


Junk mail jackpot

I hit the junk mail jackpot last Friday. My mailbox was so jammed with unwanted catalogs and flyers that it took me several minutes to extricate the colorful mess. Six catalogs arrived that day (and four the next day) – Mrs. Beasley’s (bakery), Signals, Brookstone’s, Coldwater Creek, Drs. Foster and Smith (pet supplies) and the ubiquitous Land’s End. From time to time I had shopped at two of these stores; the other catalogs were most unwelcome, and they always proliferate at holiday time.

I dumped the hefty pile of advertising, unread, into my recycling box, awaiting its final trip to the Transfer Station. This excessive volume of junk mail is harmful to a healthy environment and national statistics are alarming. Unsolicited junk mail received by the average American household consumes 1.5 trees a year. It takes 17 trees to make a ton of paper and nearly 100 million trees a year are committed to the junk mail business. Forty-four percent of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only 22% is recycled.

There are customers who enjoy browsing through catalogs, comparing costs and shopping from home. They should continue to receive the catalogs of their choice. Those who prefer to shop online or locally should be able to opt out of junk mail, and they can.

Many websites promise to unclutter our mailboxes; most are free. Among them are and The DirectMail site is connected with the National Do Not Mail list, comparable to the Do Not Call list that screens out telemarketers. A Mosquito colleague reports that her family has registered with the Do Not Mail list, and their volume of junk mail has decreased.

Newsweek recently reported that junk mail constitutes 52% of mail volume, and this revenue “is the financial underpinning of the Postal Service - it could not survive without it.”

Carlisle Postmaster Greg Lee said by phone that the Post Office is required to deliver all mail addressed to the household. He referred me to the United States Postal Service’s Consumer Affairs Office in North Reading, Mass. They suggest that customers who want to remove their names from mailing lists register with the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association at

In the Mosquito editorial of November 14, 2008, Lee urged Carlisleans to support our local Post Office by increasing our volume of packages and first-class mail (write Christmas cards instead of emailing them). If you are flying within the U.S. for the holidays, sending Christmas packages ahead by mail instead of paying extra for checked luggage, which many airlines now require, is cheaper. A skier friend sends her ski equipment to Colorado by mail rather than incurring extra charges at the airport.

We can still support our Post Office if we reduce our junk mail – and help the environment at the same time.

Bare November days

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Like the Fourth of July it is certifiably American, but it is also a specifically New England holiday. Unlike the Fourth, we don’t have to pledge our lives and sacred honor (though this Thanksgiving, in a panic of fate, we may have pledged our fortunes). This holiday is not associated with the frenzy of gifts and economic survival, like Christmas; or the survival of romantic love, like Valentine’s Day (bane of the male of the species). It does not have a military, political, or exclusively religious character. It is not associated with fireworks or the disappearance of the warming sun. True, parades do take place, but these occur in faraway, exotic places known for their excesses. Rather, Thanksgiving is known for its food, always a propitious sign.

Scholars have traced the earliest general thanksgiving celebration to September 8, 1565, near Saint Augustine, Florida when the Spaniard Pedro Menéndez de Avilés held a thanksgiving Mass with 600 settlers for their safe arrival in the New World. None of the Spanish iconography survived the subsequent invasions, wars, and cultural encounters. English settlers near Jamestown, Virginia, also declared a day of giving thanks to God on December 4, 1619. But these original settlers suffered a massacre at the hands of Native Americans and withdrew from their original location to the more secure Jamestown proper.

Finally, near the end of 1620 the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower waded ashore at Provincetown on the Cape, then made their permanent settlement at Plimoth Plantation, the site of a Native American village abandoned three years previously due to a smallpox epidemic sweeping through the native populations. Similar diseases likewise ravaged the Pilgrims. The following year the Pilgrims (not to be confused with the religiously less tolerant Puritans of the nearby Massachusetts Bay Colony) held their three-day feast with Massasoit and his 90 men, feasting on venison and “great store of wild turkeys.”

Fall harvest feasts continued to be held throughout the remainder of the century and into the 18th century. Some of the original Colonies marked the occasion, unexpectedly, with fasting and prayer. Various early presidents declared national days of thanksgiving; Lincoln finally gave the day its fixed date, calling for a national Thanksgiving Day on the final Thursday in November 1863. Roosevelt made the fourth Thursday in November law in 1941.

Like Robert Frost’s “My November Guest,” I love the bare, the withered tree, the sodden pasture lane. The birds have gone away; mist clings to cotton and wool. The trees are deserted and desolate; the earth is faded, the sky heavy. I love the empty trees, the empty roads, the empty lawns of the fourth Thursday in November. I love walking the ruined fields of the Towle Land, and the desolate Cranberry Bog where the over-wintering geese paddle companionably in the dark, cold water of the flood ponds.

The next day brings the crowded streets and shops of the succeeding holiday, the dwindling daylight, the glitter of candles in windows. The tragic beauty of November builds all month to make us thankful for withered oak leaves blown across bare, lovely roads.



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