A World Full of Gifts

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by Molly Brown

After checking out Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer from our local library, I bought my own copy to read for the second time.  This time through, I found this passage on wild strawberries and wanted to riff on what Kimmerer says about them:

Finding a patch of wild strawberries still touches me with a sensation of surprise, a feeling of unworthiness and gratitude for the generosity and kindness that comes from an unexpected gift all wrapped in red and green…

Photo by J. Thomas Ross

Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet.  A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning.  It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears.  Your only role is to be open-eyed and present. Gifts exist in the realm of humility and mystery—as with random acts of kindness, we do not know their source. (Kimmerer, p. 23-24)

I am moved by the idea of the world being full of gifts, simply scattered at our feet.  We moderns think in terms of “resources” that we can exploit, extract, and sell at a profit.  What if, instead, we considered the riches of the Earth as gifts—gifts we cannot earn or deserve, that just come to us by virtue of our being alive on this planet?  What a profoundly different relationship we might experience with the natural world in which we live.

And what gifts, besides wild strawberries, do we receive, no matter how undeserving we may be?  Air to breathe, rich with oxygen to fire our cells.  Clean pure water—so essential to life—pouring out of springs on the mountainside.  Sunshine, falling on everyone, warming the soil, air, and our bodies, fueling the basic processes of life.  Soils to grow our food and flowers, teeming with microbes and fungi that support life in so many ways we are just beginning to understand.  Trees and plants and the amazing array of animals that contribute to our physical and spiritual lives in myriad and interconnected ways.  The microbes that inhabit our bodies and help digest our food, maintain healthy chemical balances, ward off disease, and eliminate toxins.  Obviously, I could go on and on.

In truth, the natural world operates as a gift economy.

Those of us privileged to grow up in a rural environment with plenty of freedom and access to relatively wild nature may have experienced what Kimmerer did: “the world…as a gift economy, ‘goods and services’ not purchased but received as gifts from the Earth.”  In truth, the natural world operates as a gift economy, even when humans get into the act as middlemen, gathering up these free gifts and selling them to the rest of us in one form or another.

Of course there are very practical reasons for doing this; we need delivery systems to bring these gifts to us, especially when we live in cities and towns, and when we need food and materials not readily available in our area or in season.  Moreover, a lot of what we require now in modern life doesn’t just drop from trees like ripe fruit; it results from human labor and manufacture, like the computer I am writing on. We need human services: teachers, doctors, nurses, technicians, repairmen, and so forth.  And money is useful as a medium of exchange (although not as an end in itself).

I only propose a shift in how we think about our relationship with the Earth.  Like the Native peoples of this land, we can honor the Earth as our Mother, receiving and sharing her gifts with gratitude, instead of viewing them only as a means to make a buck.


Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2013.

Molly Brown, Editor of Deep Times, co-authored Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects with Joanna Macy.  Molly brings ecopsychology, the Work That Reconnects, and psychosynthesis to her work phone coaching, teaching on-line courses, writing books and essays, and  presenting talks and workshops. Her six books include Growing Whole: Self-realization for the Great Turning and Lighting a Candle: Collected Reflections on a Spiritual Life. She leads retreats in the Work That Connects with Constance Washburn and other facilitators.  MollyYoungBrown.com.


One thought on “A World Full of Gifts

  1. What a beautiful commentary Molly on this passage from Kimmerer: A World Full of Gifts! Thank you for refocusing my heart on the gift of Earth and being alive to share in its bounty with humility and gratitude!

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