- Mountains And Waters
At the last potluck group, we listened to this talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It prompted deep and intimate talking, and I cannot remember much except how it satisfied some essential need for spiritual community.
Last night I was reading her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, and some of those feelings came up again. But what can I share to offer a taste? In the chapter called “The Honorable Harvest,” she writes about a group of men telling hunting stories. The one elder talks. “He says, ‘I must have seen ten deer that day, but I only took one shot.’ He tips his chair back and looks at the hill, remembering. The young men listen, looking intently at the porch floor. ‘The first one came crunching through the dry leaves, but was shielded by the brush as it wove down the hill. It never saw me sitting there. Then a young buck came moving upwind toward me and then stepped behind a boulder. I could have tracked it…but I knew it wasn’t the one.’ Deer by deer, he recounts the day’s encounters for which he never even raised his rifle: the doe by the water, the three-pointer concealed behind a basswood with only its rump showing. ‘I only take one bullet with me,’ he says.
“The young men in T-shirts lean forward on the bench across from him. ‘And then, without explanation, there’s one who walks right into the clearing and looks you in the eye. He knows full well that you’re there and what you’re doing. He turns his flank right toward you for a clear shot. I know he’s the one, and so does he. There’s a kind of nod exchanged. That’s why I only carry one shot. I wait for the one. He gave himself to me. That’s what I was taught: take only what is given, and then treat it with respect.'”
Kimmerer also writes of a young woman who came to one of her talks, when nobody else was listening, and told about her grandmother in Turkey. “I remember lying with her at night as she made us thank the rafters of her house and the wood blankets we slept in.”
Take only what is given. That is exactly the Second Precept of Buddhism, though the common translation is “not stealing.”
I didn’t grow up with teachings of gratitude for every thing, though we prayed over every meal, and one prayer was a prayer of thanks. I continue to be shocked at the waste everywhere in modern culture. I had thought it was because my parents grew up during the Depression and couldn’t afford to waste, but it’s pleasant to think perhaps they came from a culture that respected the sacred in material things.
That’s the way I want to live. It’s painful for me to be with people who live without respect for those material things – which means nearly everyone in modern America – but how else is it possible to live in closeness to our relatives the plants and animals, the soils and waters?
Sometimes I try to share this with others. The land care retreats are such a time – how can we live knowing everything as holy? There’s one on the May 17 weekend, and another in August. They’re offered in the old tradition of dana, generosity, with a requested fee for expenses and an option for work exchange. You would be welcome.