Act: Inspiration

Flowers of the Food Forest: Reciprocity and the Obligation of Gifts

April 30, 2019

“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants



I was born into the time of Giving.

It is a Giving, of course,

That is not new,

But that has existed since the dawn of time;

Heaved up from below,

Raining down from above,

And slipping like ribbons

across the face of the Land;

Restless, churning, cycling;

Sometimes terrifying, always beautiful;

Always giving.


The air

The rocks

The waters

The creatures

The sunlight

All gifts


But all limited

By the tempo of the cycles,

By the beat of the songs

Played by the ancient musicians

From the beginning.




But I was also born into the time of Taking.

This Taking, of course,

Though far younger than the Giving,

Was not new to my species.


But it had been accelerated,

Refined, focused,

Sharpened, organized,

Quantified, optimized,

Monetized, rationalized,

and rendered so toxic

That all its yellow eyes fell upon

(Which was much and then most)

Withered and blew away


It was a Taking framed as holy religion,

Masterminded by dispassionate science,

Engineered with adroit technology,

Powered by ancient sunlight,

Defended with card tricks and hell-fire,

And inspired by both the crushing sadness

And blinding selfishness of a suicide.


And for what purpose, this Taking?

Alas (alas!), it sought,

as its ultimate and baffling goal,

the reduction of a miracle

To blendered entropy;

A spark of magic at the cost

Of the world.


And now, fifty years later,

This Taking,

Metastasized and overgrown,

Has diminished

Not just the songs of the present,

And not just the songs of the future,

But now even the songs of very distant future;

A scale of time as unimaginable to our minds,

as forever.


This is the Taking

Into which I was born,

And to which I have served.


The Obligation of Gifts


So now what?

Now that we have reached

The endgame,

When the songs of the Giving

Are becoming softer

And sometimes falling out of tune,

And instruments are dropping out

One by one,

And even the ends of these songs entirely

Are imaginable.


What are we to do now?


For the songs are not gone yet.

And we are still here.


And now,

As we still breathe,

And we still see and feel,

And hear and taste,

And we still have hands,

And we still have voices,

And we can still laugh and cry and love,

We can do,

Once again,

What is the right thing to do

When given these gifts,

Or any gift:


We can

Say thank you.


And we can acknowledge

That these are indeed


That we have been,

And are continuing to be,



And we can treasure the gifts,

Even the smallest,

And treat them with the respect

And love

That all gifts deserve.


And we can nurture the upwelling desire

To repay these gifts

In whatever way we can.


And we can trust that

What we give back

To those we love

Will always be returned to us

In some way.


Flowers of the Food Forest

So on an April morning,

Birdsong ringing out,

The ground wet with dew,

I sink a shovel into the damp soil

And plant another tree.


And I upright one from last year

that has fallen over in the Winter,


And I start seeds

For those that I will plant next year.

And I visit a sour cherry,

Planted fifteen years ago,

And now in full, glorious bloom

(That may perhaps avoid the frosts this year).

And I stand in awe,

With an upwelling of love

And thankfulness,

For these gifts,

For all these beautiful gifts

We are given.

Dan Allen

I'm a high school chemistry teacher in NJ. I'm also a concerned father, organic farmer, and community garden organizer. You can find my previous stories on here.

Tags: Building resilient food and farming systems, food forest, gift economy