Foraging as a Relationship: the Honorable Harvest
When we imagine an invisible network connecting all living things, of which we are but a small part, we can discover a new sense of belonging to nature and this human existence. Foraging will no longer be an activity of mere taking, but it will be part of a deeper relationship with nature that involves mutual care and the exchange of gifts. We will experience our lives as part of a web of relationships where our way of being becomes in service to feeding not just ourselves, but the forest as a whole, so that all beings may flourish and live in balance.
OUR GENEROUS PLANET
We might not be aware of it most of the time, but every day of our lives, the Earth showers us with gifts. Without holding back, she provides us with the fresh air in our lungs, clean water for us to drink, food in our bellies, the beauty of flowers, the peaceful company of a tree. Like a true mother, the Earth provides for us, nourishes us, protects us. She does so without holding back or having any expectations or judgment towards us. Even if we don't see her or offer nothing in return, she still gives freely. Her giving to us is unconditional.
In many parts of the world, we have come to see the Earth’s expressions of generosity as resources to commodify and use boundlessly. We have become spellbound by our self-designed tunnels of production and consumption, driven by an insatiable hunger to always want to have more. In this, we have become alienated from the body that supports and sustains us. We’re no longer aware that it is through the precious gifts of the many beings around us that we are sheltered and nourished every day, and that in this, our lives are inextricably linked to them. We are, because they are. In our forgetting of our interconnectedness, we have reduced the Earth and all of her beings to a collection of ‘things’ to exploit for what we perceive to be our personal benefit.
OTHER THAN HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS
If you want to have meaningful and strong bonds with people close to you, for example with your parents or close friends, you can’t simply walk into their lives and take whatever you please; whether this is their time, love, or items found in their house. In a relationship of mutual care and respect, your goal can never be to exploit the other for your own benefit. Instead, when you have a close relationship with somebody, both of you will constantly seek out ways to care for the other person, honor them, lift them up, and express gratitude for the gifts they bring into your life. This way of being not only creates trust and reciprocity in your relationships, it will also give you a sense of belonging to others and to something larger than yourself.
Despite the many gifts the Earth gives us every day, for most of us in the Western world, our perceived sphere of connection and mutual nurturing of relationships ends outside the small circle of humans that we consider to be close to us. If we however extend our circle and include the other beings that we interact with and benefit from -the trees in the forest, the berries on a bush, or the garden soil that helps us grow vegetables-, our experience of life will change drastically. Suddenly we are not only connected to and cared for by a circle of a few, but by very many. Experiencing how the gifts from all these beings help carry you and keep you alive, also comes with a responsibility -just like it does within our small circle of humans. In a worldview that understands non-human beings to be persons rather than things, their lives and how we relate to them matters very much.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, scientist, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and author of the extraordinary book Braiding Sweetgrass, explains:
“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.”
RECIPROCITY WITH THE LIVING WORLD
Like in our close human relationships, becoming aware of the value and preciousness of the many gifts that non-human beings give us every day, will open our hearts to experiencing a deep sense of connection and belonging to the natural world. The world around us no longer consists of a collection of 'things' separate from us, it is now a web of relationships we are a part of. And like in human relationships, these links become stronger, more meaningful, and deeper when carefully tended to by all those who are involved. Reciprocity becomes a natural inclination when we walk in life in this way. Robin Wall Kimmerer shares:
“Reciprocity helps resolve the moral tension of taking a life by giving in return something of value that sustains the ones who sustain us. One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence.”
THE HONORABLE HARVEST
How can we reciprocate the many gifts of the Earth and the beings that we receive from when we forage or receive otherwise? We could express gratitude, offer a song, help protect the natural area that gifts us, teach our children about the beings whose gifts we received, or offer a ceremony. Options are endless, and each of us has unique ways and gifts we can offer.
The Honorable Harvest is a set of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life. You could see them as guidelines for how we humans can relate to the rest of the living world in a way that expresses respect, care, and gratitude, and that helps ensure the health of the planet for future generations. Using them as a basis, you can weave in your unique offerings and style to start building your own relationships with the beings who have been sharing their gifts with you. The guiding principles of the Honorable Harvest are:
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.
If we could really see how deeply we are cared for, what a different world it would be.
Many thanks to Robin Wall Kimmerer and the many people from indigenous cultures all over the world who still live in reciprocity with the Earth. Thank you for showing those of us who have forgotten so patiently with your living example what it means to live a life of connection. Thank you for offering the rest of us your wisdom, like the principles of the Honorable Harvest, and for showing us ways to rediscover how to be in meaningful relationship with the living world.