In many ways, the pile of food was embarrassing. Not just because I’d clearly over-estimated what was required to host a not-enough-seats-or-plates-but-let’s-fill-the-house-with-friends-anyway Thanksgiving feast. Falling short as an elegant hostess is not something that bothers me. Where I didn’t want to fall short was in the actual offering, in the stuff to mound on top of the chipped, mismatching plates. We rallied friends to help prepare the feast and for most of the weekend, the kitchen was a joyful frenzy of preparation, of side-stepping around fellow chefs, navigating oven and burner real estate, and raiding drawers to find the weird implements that only get used once a year – mashers and basters and turkey stitcher-uppers. But because I evidently have a deep-seated fear that there won’t be enough to go around, there was way too much food. There was food to feed a village.
If I’d prayed over it, at all, the appropriate words would probably have been: forgive my excess.
How can I have so much, and still be afraid that there’s not enough?
I had been thinking about this through a series of great harvests in my garden. Unexpectedly good yields from the raspberry patch, the strawberries, the weird prickly little lemon cucumbers, the potatoes, and the garlic demanded hours of harvesting and processing. Plenty of things withered on the vine, (tomatoes decimated by slugs, brussells sprouts that did not sprout), proving my successes are random and unreliable, but those particular harvests were on steroids. As I picked more raspberries than I could count, for the fifth consecutive day, the shadow-thought to my plenty-overwhelm came: how do I ensure continued bounty? Is this a one-off? Can I guarantee this next year?
And a voice whispered back: Give some away.
I owe that teaching to Sam.
At the beginning of the year, I sat down with Pemberton-raised Sam McKoy, on one of the handful of days he was actually home in Pemberton. At 25, he’s a qualified ACMG ski guide, and in between linking guiding gigs together across the province, and completing a bachelor of Science in Outdoor Recreation and Conservation, where he’s studying the inter-relationship between tourism, land management, outdoor education and indigenous studies,he has started his own offering, Atna Adventures, guiding small heli-dropped ski touring and wilderness hiking groups into some of the most spectacular places in BC, predominantly here in the Coast Mountains.
He’s created his company, in part, torevive the art of Base Camp expeditioning – not to make it easier to bag massive peaks, but to help people trek safely around in the backcountry and experience a place, deeply, quietly, attentively, as it slowly imprints on them.
After our conversation, which left me feeling that I’d found solid rebuttal for the allegation that millennials are a tribe of hopeless technology-addicted narcissists, McKoy compounded the good vibes by sending me a link to a talk by botanist, professor and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Dr Robin Wall Kimmerer, on the Honourable Harvest.
The Honorable Harvest is a set of ethics that were taught to Dr Kimmerer by her teachers to guide her when she would go out to pick berries or medicines.
The first rule for foragers, shared Dr Kimmerer, is you never take the first one – berry, mushroom, plant – because it might be the last. You restrain yourself, until you’ve checked the health of the population, asked permission of the plant, and listened for the answer. If you’re given permission, explains Dr Kimmerer, you take only what you need. Then you give thanks, and share what you glean.
“This is a very difficult step in our materialistic, affluence-plagued society,” she explains, “where the difference between our wants and our needs is blurred. We’re all encouraged to take everything that we get.”
The last and most important tenet, Kimmerer concluded, is to reciprocate the gift.
“If you take from the earth, in order for balance to occur, you have to give back. We have forgotten this. Even our definitions of sustainability are all about trying to find a formula by which we can keep on taking.”
To heal our relationship with the land, says Dr Kimmerer, we have to reclaim our role as givers.
The hollow that I keep trying to fill with more, more, more, the fear I keep damping down, is not related to any actual lack of blessing, of abundance, of food or harvest… but a failure on my part to close the circle, an imbalance of accounts, a neglect of the practice of giving back.
What do I have to offer in return? “We have the gift of choice, the gift of story, of gratitude, of love,” says Kimmerer, “of hands that make ingenious tools and transformative art. We can put our hands into the earth, restoring the damage we have done. It’s not the land that is broken. It’s the relationship between us and the land. We can heal the relationship by asking: what will I give in return for the gifts of the earth, in return for the gifts of birds and berries, in return for the privilege of breath?”
Turkey leftovers shared with friends is a start. And what next?