Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking.
Abide by the answer.
Never take the first.
Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half.
Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully.
Never waste what you have taken.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the Earth will last forever.
These are the words of the Honorable Harvest, a covenant held as a standard for engaging with Nature by indigenous tribes. I learned them from Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, as she referred back to them again and again in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass (linked in my store here).
I have been immersed in her book for weeks now…every chapter like sitting with an elder and listening to the stories, the lessons, and the ways of communing with Nature that I didn’t even know I needed to learn. Each page is a gift of guidance and wisdom.
I could write for days on all that I’ve learned from Ms. Kimmerer’s book. I most certainly have accumulated several hours of talking about it with my guy, sharing what I’ve learned in that day’s reading.
There are lessons in Braiding Sweetgrass that every human needs. Now more than ever. I will share a few of the dozens I’ve highlighted in my book here – though I most certainly will not be able to do them justice. For that, you must do two things: read Braiding Sweetgrass, and allow the words to rearrange your insides in whatever way is needed.
One of the most interesting things taught in the book is the notion that one can become indigenous to a place. Ms. Kimmerer begins with the story of Skywoman, shared by the original peoples of the Great Lakes region. It tells the story of how the land came to be and how the people came to be a part of it.
You truly must hear the full story of Skywoman, as I believe it will resonate with something deep inside you, but the part I want to highlight is this: Skywoman fell from the sky, where her people lived, and landed on a turtle shell, which eventually became the Earth. Skywoman herself was an immigrant.
And as Ms. Kimmerer writes, “Skywoman was pregnant. Knowing her grandchildren would inherit the world she left behind, she did not work for flourishing in her time only. It was through her actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original immigrant became indigenous.”
Throughout the book, Ms. Kimmerer references how someone can become indigenous to a place by honoring the knowledge in the land, living as if your children’s future mattered, and taking care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.
There Will Be Casualties
Whether foraging a wild plant for its medicinal properties, hunting an animal so you may eat, or restoring a habitat so it may flourish, there will be casualties.
There’s the story of when Ms. Kimmerer was restoring an algae covered pond to its clear-water glory so that both ducks and people could swim in it. Ms. Kimmerer is a botanist so this sort of thing is right up her alley. As she raked out the algae, she realized that a number of microscopic creatures had set up home in that algae.
By clearing the pond, she was clearing out the home of others. She wrote how it did not keep her up at night, or stop her from clearing the pond. She simply acknowledged her choice to rake the pond and accepted that there would be casualties.
To live a life without affecting someone else – whether person, plant, or protozoa – is an impossibility. This is in part because we are all a part of Nature in a far more interconnected way than most folks even consider. For instance, the hunter who takes a deer to feed his family…it is not a game of ‘gotcha’ against the deer, of you versus me, but rather an experience of you and me.
This is one reason why asking permission and giving a gift are a part of the Honorable Harvest guidelines. To know that something gave its life so you can have yours – it’s only appropriate that you ask before taking and give a gift in reciprocity.
Everyone takes a life, whether you eat only plants or you include meat. But rather than feel guilty for it – which I think only serves to keep you removed from the experience of being a part of the Natural world – learn to do it honorably. [This is where we get to say fuck off to conventional meat raised on feedlots, as well as tomatoes that are grown with pesticides and shipped to your grocery store in January, and to manicured “lawns” that forgo whatever natural plants are there in favor of curb appeal.]
Where I’m Going From Here
At the time of writing this, I am signing off from social media end of day tomorrow. I took a break last year at this time and it was so impactful I’m doing it again this year for even longer! While off social media, I’ll be working just like I usually do, but without any expectation (self-imposed or otherwise) that I update folks about it via a few words and a corresponding photo. If you haven’t noticed by now, I prefer long-form communication – both written and verbal…
So I’ll be blogging here and at my work website, The Unbreakable Body. And I’ll be working on my book, taking care of my students and clients, and spending some quality time outdoors. To close out, here’s some photos from my latest fit for real life adventures. I hope you’ll come visit me here again, throughout my time off social media and beyond!
*Links in this post may go to my amazon affiliate store, where amazon kindly gives back a few cents from every purchase – at no expense to you – to help keep the lights on around here.