Today, walking in the wet and misty morning song of this equinox morning, it seems to me that balance is the thing we need to attend to more than almost anything else.
We live in a society that's so wildly out of balance it's keeling over. We almost all know it now, even those with their heads deeply buried in their own comfort and convenience are being delivered the unwelcome news via mainstream media which at long last is starting to speak about 'climate emergency', 'mass extinction' and 'global heating'.
To me, the major source of our imbalance can be boiled down to our ignoring of the notion of 'The Honourable Harvest' - this is most eloquently expressed by the Native American elder, scientist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer. She calls the Honourable Harvest "a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the living world. A very sophisticated ethical protocol." It's the way I was taught to forage and it's a way of seeing the world, that were we to adopt it as a universal truth, would completely change the way we lived our lives.
"One of the firs steps of the honourable harvest is to understand that the lives that we are taking are the lives of generous beings, of sovereign beings. And in order to accept their gift we owe them at least our attention. To care for them we must know what they need, and at the very minimum we should know their names. And yet the average American can name over 100 corporate logos and ten plants." I'm reasonably confident your average Brit could do a little better, but how many of us really know the names of our more-than-human neighbours? How many of us address the plant before we harvest it, asking permission and listening until that permission is given, not taking if permission is not given, speaking with the Spirit of that plant about our gratitude and acknowledging our responsibility in the cycle of life? Not many.
I'm fully aware that not everyone has the privilege of being able to go foraging, to collect food directly from source. But everything we have is part of Earth's generous giving, whether we picked it from a hedgerow or bought it in a shop. Life supports life, life feeds life, and Life is not a 'product' to be momentarily fashionable and then thrown away. No part of it should be. In the democracy of species that is the world wide web of life everyone is equal, not in stature or strength for sure, but in their importance to the interwoven, interdependent whole. We all have our part to play. Most of life is doing the best it can, but in the West humans are careering out of control in a centuries long frenzy of over-consumption, with no respect for the needs of anyone else. Imagine if we refused to buy those things that had not been honourably harvested. I suspect the choice would be pretty limited on a supermarket's shelves... but what if we didn't shop in supermarkets? What if we found local producers, local growers, makers, bakers...
Implicit in the honourable harvest - and the first rule of foraging - is the instruction to never take the first plant you see. This means that you will never be accidentally taking the last one, leaving nothing to make seeds for next year. And making sure that you only ever take a small percentage of what is there, so that others - human and non-human, may have a share in the harvest too.
These ancient instructions tell us to harvest in a way that does no damage to the plant and use to everything you harvest. Waste is an insult to the life that gave so freely. If you have accidentally taken more than you need then share. In fact - just share anyway: It's so good for us, to give, to share, to participate, to feel ourselves part of community. To also be the generosity of the abundant Earth.
The last part of the honourable harvest is gratitude. To be grateful for what we have been given and to express that gratitude to the plant that gave the gift. Spreading seeds and singing songs are my favourite ways. What's yours? Imagine if instead of always wanting more... a new one, a better one, another one, the upgrade, update, up-with-consumerism and down-with-any-sense-of-enough one, instead we sat with our gratitude, really felt our gratitude, felt how it pours into our hearts and makes us feel rich.
I can think of very few instances in life where the protocols of The Honourable Harvest could not apply, and would not make Western Culture a better place to live. If we remembered a world where we honoured the gifts we are constantly being given by the generous Wild, if we shared those gifts with each other and with the more-than-human world. If we remembered that there are a finite number of leaves and berries, hips and haws, on any given plant, and that everyone is entitled to their share. Everyone entitled to enough. No-one taking more than what Satish Kumar calls "an elegant sufficiency" - I've always loved that phrase.
I wish it for you this equinox, and for all of us.