gifts

A gift creates ongoing relationship… [it is] something for nothing, except that certain obligations are attached… That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage… the currency of a gift economy is, at its root reciprocity… from private goods to common wealth.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 24-29

I was just thinking about gifts. Christmas just passed and all the while leading up to it, there were talk of gifts and one of the most awkward questions I hear every year, “what would you like for your gift?” I’ve never easily answered this question – well maybe as a kid I asked for chocolate or stuffed animals – but in my more mature years, I’ve never felt comfortable asking anyone for gifts. It feels too much like some superficial exchange, a thoughtless Secret Santa.

The earth gives to us every moment. My mother gives to me each and every day. What more could I possibly ask of her, especially during a time that has become the prime celebration of commodification?

Still, pushed by the Gregorian calendar, deafening carols, and family wishlists, I give in to the season, tricking myself into thinking I could make someone happy with a dishcloth, when I could be doing the dishes; dumplings, when I could be cooking dinner; books, when we could be making stories worth writing; and money, when we could be building common wealth.

There’s just something that doesn’t sit right with me. It’s as if these gifts are slowly cutting off my relationships instead of creating them. It strips away my attention, time, and care into scraps of gift wrap and loose ribbons. Gifts are made every day, but many are received without appreciation. I think if I understand and take time to be thankful for all the gifts I receive, I can truly give back meaningfully. Because I want to give back. To my mom, my partner, the land, the trees, and all the critters in between.

slow down

Slow down, breathe deep, and look around. What can you hear? What do you see? How do you feel?

…forests matter at a more fundamental level than most of us realize.

– Peter Wohlleben, Introduction to the English Edition in The Hidden Life of Trees, xi

Forests and mountains never cease to amaze me. When I think about the mountains I’ve clambered across and the trees that have sheltered me, I think, “if only I could stay here – if only this was home.”

What I like about these questions is that they could take place at any instance, anywhere. Whether we’re hammering away in dingy cubical at work, blazing a trail through a snowy forest, or wiggling through crowds of people, we should “slow down,” wonder why we aren’t at peace like the trees in the forest, and act in ways so we can be.

becoming indigenous

becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it… our relationship with the land cannot heal until we hear its stories

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 9

As someone born and raised in bustling cities, how can we take care of the land in our concrete, steel, and glass towers? We dare not even touch the earth, as asphalt rolls and sizzles at our feet. Inside hulking, chortling machines, we make our way to fluorescent square footage, where we go about our “work” – not to heal the ground, but to exploit it. We are everything but indigenous. We are foreign and strive to be alien.

I am detached, but I want to be joined.

the pull of a compass

cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the world. They tell us who we are… they are like a compass: they provide an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map for yourself… [which] will be different for each of us and different for every era.

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 7

How strong is the pull of a compass? Or a series of compasses? How do we read compasses? Some must be harder to understand than others. Perhaps the difference lies in the reading.

keepers of fire and water

For all the Keepers of the Fire
my parents
my daughters
and my grandchildren
yet to join us in this beautiful place

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, the dedication in Braiding Sweetgrass

One day, I’d like to write a book, to give and dedicate to someone else. I’d like to be a keeper and a giver of the fire and of water, for “women are the Keepers of Water” and tending fires is what keeps us alive (94).