This morning, Sue McKerracher graciously offers us “Lessons in Thankfulness” she has been open to receiving this fall. Thank you for sharing these important awakenings with us, Sue. May we too offer our “choicest thanks” for the richness of the world surrounding us and generously live our gratitude in the world.
This year I had the pleasure of being introduced to the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Its pages invited me to spend long, leisurely, awe-filled hours in my backyard getting to know the “other-than-human” beings that share the sacred space I call home. I would like to offer three practices that, along with Ms. Kimmerer’s writing, have nurtured a profound sense of gratitude and thankfulness within me this year.
The Chestnut Tree
“Our elders say that rituals are the way we remember to remember…to recognize all that we are given, and to offer our choicest thanks in return.”
I share a ritual with the hundred-year-old chestnut tree who stands majestically in my back yard. Every morning, before I do anything else, I pour a cup of coffee, slip on my gardening shoes, grab a bucket, and go and stand under her majestic branches. All around me on the ground are the dozens of “gifts” that have showered down from those branches – large, spikey shells housing shiny brown chestnuts. As I bend down to pick each one up, I name something or someone that I am thankful for. It has been very humbling to recognize that I have no shortage of reasons to be thankful! Robin Wall Kimmerer also notes that one way we offer our “choicest thanks” is by extending our attention, and intention, to others; so part of my practice is to be mindful of the circumstances of different people, and to pray for them with every chestnut I pick up. I have noticed a deep contentment settle in me as I engage this practice, and for this I am deeply thankful.
The Vegetable Garden
“Indigenous people understood the fundamental nature of gifts is that they move, and their value increases with their passage.”
It was with great anticipation that I planted the first tiny seeds in my vegetable garden; I was already envisioning the bountiful gifts their harvest would yield. I clapped gleefully as the first tender shoots pushed up through the soil, and then watched in amazement as those shoots grew in length, produced flowers, and then fruit. Cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers, beans, carrots, kale, blueberries, apples, plums, pears etc. The harvest was more than I had imagined; the garden had shared its choicest gifts. As I gathered this produce with great thankfulness, I remembered Kimmerer’s observation that gifts are not meant to be hoarded, and that their value increases as it is shared with others. The vegetable plants had offered their gifts to me and part of my expression of thankfulness would involve me sharing those gifts with others. This led to bags of apples and plums being shared with neighbours, jams and chutneys being delivered to homes around the city, zucchini loaves and apple pies being baked and gifted to family and friends, and salsa being made and served with nachos to hungry travellers. What I experienced was a multiplying of the gifts that the plants had given, and an even greater multiplication of the gratefulness that I experienced in the sharing of those gifts with others. The gifts I had shared flowed back to me in the gift of community, care, laughter, and belonging – and for this I am so deeply thankful!
The Flowering Garden
“Names are the way we humans build relationship, not only with each other, but with the living world.”
I have only lived on this property for a year, so all the plants are new to me. As Spring arrived and the various flowers began to push through the soil, I marveled at their resilience and beauty, but I felt no sense of connection to them. My third practice, then, was to learn the name of a different plant each day and spend time observing it. I learned which plants enjoyed direct sun and which ones preferred shade; which plants offered their gifts to the hummingbirds, and which fed the bees. Over time my back garden became filled, not with beautiful vegetation, but with friends who I knew by name. As I removed spent flowers from the rose bush, I thanked her for her beauty; and as I passed by the jasmine tree, I stopped to breathe deeply and thank her for her sweet fragrance. This reciprocity of relationship; this sense of belonging to each other, has connected me to the rest of the living world in such beautiful ways, it is a gift, and for this I am so deeply thankful.
“It is human perception that makes the world a gift…may we recognize all that we are given and offer our choicest thanks in return.”
– Robin Wall Kimmerer