The following essay was published in the Winter 2016 issue of Yes Magazine, to which I have subscribed for a number of years. This piece resonated for me, as do so many that I read in each issue of the magazine.I hope your holidays are filled with health, the warmth of friends and family and the joy of giving back.
In this season of harvest, our baskets are full, rounded with fragrant apples and heaped with winter squash. So too are the steel shopping carts that clatter across the parking lot, plastic bags whipping in the wind. How do we even name such abundance? Are these commodities? Natural resources? Ecosystem services? In the indigenous worldview, we call them gifts.
We are showered every day with the gifts of the Earth: air to breathe, fresh water, the companionship of geese and maples—and food. Since we lack the gift of photosynthesis, we animals are destined by biology to be utterly dependent upon the lives of others, the inherently generous, more-than-human persons with whom we share the planet.If we understand the Earth as just a collection of objects, then apples and the land that offers them fall outside our circle of moral consideration. We tell ourselves that we can use them however we please, because their lives don’t matter. But in a worldview that understands them as persons, their lives matter very much. Recognition of personhood does not mean that we don’t consume, but that we are accountable for the lives that we take. When we speak of the living world as kin, we also are called to act in new ways, so that when we take those lives, we must do it in such a way that brings honor to the life that is taken and honor to the ones receiving it.The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are “rules” of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Take only what you need and leave some for others.
Use everything that you take.
Take only that which is given to you.
Share it, as the Earth has shared with you.
Reciprocate the gift.
Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.
Though we live in a world made of gifts, we find ourselves harnessed to institutions and an economy that relentlessly ask, “What more can we take from the Earth?” In order for balance to occur, we cannot keep taking without replenishing. Don’t we need to ask, “What can we give?”
The Honorable Harvest is a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the land. This simple list may seem like a quaint prescription for how to pick berries, but it is the root of a sophisticated ethical protocol that could guide us in a time when unbridled exploitation threatens the life that surrounds us. Western economies and institutions enmesh us all in a profoundly dishonorable harvest. Collectively, by assent or by inaction, we have chosen the policies we live by. We can choose again.
What if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land? And humans—not just plants and animals—fulfilled the purpose of supporting the lives of others? What would the world look like if a developer poised to convert a meadow to a shopping mall had first to ask permission of the meadowlarks and the goldenrod? And abide by their answer? What if we fill our shopping baskets with only that which is needed and give something back in return?
How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? In gratitude, in ceremony, through acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in children, in ballots, in stories of renewal, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and dance for the renewal of the world.
Definition of TEDDER: one that teds; specifically : a machine for stirring and spreading hay to hasten drying and curing
First Known Use of TEDDER: 15th century
I think of it as a “fluffer” for hay. And, I was pleased to discover that there is one available in the neighborhood to rent because we had a bumper crop of clover this year. Another thing I learned is that clover is loaded full of moisture and takes a really long time to dry. Our hay might have molded if we hadn’t been able to use the tedder.
Raking hay after it is “fluffed” with a tedder is a challenge.
We snuck away for a fishing outing in early June and happened to catch the dragonfly emergence. We thought we were seeing some sort of seeds stuck to the rushes, but on closer inspection we realized they were the shells of the larvae with dragonflies drying before their first flights.
Dragonflies are my heroes! When they are on patrol and scooping mosquitoes out of the air my heart sings.
A passel of content lambs on this cool, sunny, day
Hoglah hard at work
Hoglah finally had her twins late last week. Today is the first day I have felt like taking pictures since then. First we had hot and muggy days where the only times the lambs frolicked was after dark. Then we had rainy, soggy, chilly. Who wants to look at pictures of damp, hunched back little lambs.
But today, now that is a different story. I think this might be the sort of day a sheep would order if they could do such a thing. It included enough wind to keep the bugs at bay, temps in the 50’s F and bright sunshine with just a few clouds. I enjoyed it too.
The lows in the 20’s F predicted for tonight may suit the sheep better than me, though. I’ve got the tender plants in the hoophouse covered with floating row cover, so hopefully they will survive. I’m already sad for the tree fruit that will probably not happen this summer because of this pesky frost.
Hoglah also had a ram and a ewe lamb. With this 3 makes a pattern on my farm where each ewe had one of each, it makes me wonder if this is always the case or just a coincidence. I guess I could ask around, or do some research online, or just continue to make observations here on the farm.
Surely this would have been funnier if I had managed to post the photo when coworkers across the nation were tiptoeing through parking lots to leave bags brimming with zucchini in passenger seats; when rural commuters wrote notes on their hands to remind them to lock up their car when they left it to go into work.
Alack, alas, I write now, when we finally have a little rain coming down and the temperature and light levels are dropping and I have to face the pile of inside work because the outside stuff is becoming more difficult and uncomfortable to accomplish.
I assure you, I was watching that fruit in amongst the vines and was certain I was seeing a buttercup squash. One day, while viewing it from another angle, I realized my error and a new piece of furniture was born – the zucchini doorstop.