from The Ogress and the Orphans
by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin Young Readers/Algonquin Books, 2022
Mom and Dad were not rich, that is in the money sense. We always had what we needed, even though maybe not always what we wanted. I haven’t checked with my brother or sister, but I suspect they would agree that we never felt deprived of material needs.
We were taught that it is better to give than receive, and that’s a hard lesson for a little kid. We learned that when you point a finger at someone else, three fingers point back at you.
Mom liked to tell us that if we asked for something, we wouldn’t get it, especially when we went to the grocery store. That kinda kept us from asking for cookies, candy, and every other kind of goody. I always wondered how she’d know what we wanted if we didn’t tell her, then remind her a few more times. But usually, she did.
When we were growing up, Daddy went to work, and Mom paid the bills. It’s just what they did. I don’t remember anyone talking about “enough” or “not this week” (or month). Those conversations didn’t involve us kids.
When I grew up, no one was talking about abundance vs. scarcity, the theory of reciprocity, or even gratitude.
In 1968, a book review of The Discovery of Abundance: Simon N. Patten and the Transformation of Social Theory, reviewer Joseph Dorfman pointed to an advisor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, R. G. Tugwell. As the New Deal got under way, Tugwell said, “the people and the government must realize that the nation had long passed from a ‘deficit’ economy to a ‘surplus’ economy.” The terms surplus and deficit, used this way point even further back, to Simon N. Patten (1852 - 1922), a well-respected professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania.
But it wasn’t until The Discovery of Abundance was published in 1967, that Patten’s theory of abundance bumped a little closer into main stream sociology and popular economics. Then in 2013, Robin Wall Kimmerer published Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. She combines the theory of abundance with the theory of reciprocity to explain how all the parts of the world are connected to each other. Her surprise of a blockbuster book showed everyone who read it the importance of giving back, especially to Nature.
In today’s quote, the Ogress has a reciprocal relationship with the bees. She uses their honey and wax, and gives back seeds which grow into the flowers the bees need for nectar.
I think the whole world is like that.
I enjoy birdsong and return the favor by keeping their feeder full.
Even though (or maybe especially because) I don’t save their seeds to replant, I always thank my tomato plants (and parsley, basil, and chives) before I harvest. I nurture the plants. I amend their soil with compost, which is its own form of reciprocity. I pull out their competition (weeds), and make sure they have enough to drink. They give me, well, they give me themselves.
Being in reciprocity with Nature comes from an internal belief in abundance. Maybe Robin Kimmerer said it best. Here are a few quotes from Braiding Sweetgrass.
- “In some Native languages the term for plants translates to those who take care of us.”
- “Action on behalf of life transforms. . .As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”
- “Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer. Take only what you need. Take only that which is given.”
- “This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.”
- “I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.”
It takes courage, for sure, to foster the attitude of abundance and to practice reciprocity. As I have said before in this space, (12/7/21) “Courage is the ability to feel fear, but act bravely anyway.” Many of us hold onto an idea of scarcity. We might run out of oil, clean water, or clean air. We might not have enough money.
It takes courage to trust. To trust in the Truth of reciprocity. We can create abundance by giving back to Earth, giving kind words, and doing kind acts for each other, and forgiving ourselves for our own limits.
-—stay curious! (and promote positivity)