On What We Need…


I’ve been wondering about what I deserve versus what I need. Are they the same?

I have a good life. It hasn’t always been that way; there have been mornings I was disappointed to wake up. But, overall, life has been good. Now, it is wonderful. How do I receive the good, without taking too much? How do I take only what I need and only what is given to me, and honor the gift and the Giver?

Recently, a few miles from where I live, I noticed a sign put up by a land developer at the corner of a what was, until recently, a heavily wooded piece of land. Some would call it “unused” land; but how can that be when deer, raccoon, rabbits, armadillo, possum, multiple hundreds of bird species, insects, snakes, earthworms, mushrooms, lichen, and many other types of organisms too numerous to list lived there? Their homes now destroyed, those creatures will either die out or become a nuisance to the people who will soon be living the “country life” on their half acre plots, neatly sodded, manicured, and meticulously planted with small ornamental trees where enormous hundred-year-old oaks and pines once stood. Pesticides will be spread, and fences erected to keep the former inhabitants away.

What bothered me about the development of the property most, was that sign. It announced the name of the developer, and below that the tagline “Proudly Overbuilt.” How arrogant! It made me sick, just standing there in front of the devastated land behind it; the conqueror announcing its defeat over the defenseless. Proudly overbuilt! It is an awful slogan and, in my opinion, terrible marketing. Behind the obnoxious sign with the hideous slogan, not a tree was left standing, the ground ripped apart by heavy machinery.  I think about the extra effort we went through (not to mention the extra expense to our very tight budget) to save a group of trees where our house would stand on the eight acres we call Sugarberry Slope. But this million-dollar company just makes a broad sweep to plow down a century’s worth of life in the name of convenience. I know our contractor would have preferred this method over ours (“yes, ma’am I understand hundred-year-old trees cannot be replaced….”).

I cannot blame the people for whom that development is being built. Deep down in our souls most of us want a piece of real estate to call our own. From the earth we are made, and to the earth we shall return, as the saying goes. I understand the need to move out to the country, I did it. I tell myself, not just a little judgmentally, that at least I did it in the most minimally invasive way possible. But building our home was disruptive to the environment around it; I cannot convince myself otherwise. Ironically, I resent the house I can see in the far distance. It spoils my view. That house has been there for well over 50 years. It was there first, so if anyone has the right to complain it is they. I entertain buying it and tearing down the house, so my view is no longer disrupted. I don’t need more land; I just want it. The cost to buy the property cannot be justified to satisfy my petty whim. Development is coming, there is no more land being made, but there is money to be made by someone from existing land. I must come to grips with the fact that there will be more houses in my view before I leave this earth. I have to put it in the “things I cannot control” column.

What is the balance between housing for the ever-growing population of people in the world, and respect for the earth and the non-human persons who live here? Is there one? Imagine telling another human that you intend to tear down their 100-year-old house to build your brand new one because you want to, and you have the right and the resources to do so. That is what we do when we build new homes or office buildings, and don’t even get me started on all the unnecessary turnpikes. We say to the non-human inhabitants, “get out, we are moving in, this is what we want, and what we deserve.”

In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, tells of the native American code of the “Honorable Harvest.”  She writes:

“The Honorable Harvest … does not say don’t take but offers inspiration and a model for what we should take. It’s not so much a list of ‘do nots’ as a list of ‘do’s.” Do eat food that is honorably harvested and celebrate every mouthful. Do use technologies that minimize harm; do take what is given. This philosophy guides not only our taking of the gifts of Mother Earth – air, water … rocks and soil and fossil fuels.

It doesn’t mean we can’t consume the energy we need, but it does mean we honorably take only what is given. The wind blows every day, every day the sun shines, every day the waves roll against the shore, and the earth is warm below us. We can understand these renewable sources of energy as given to us, since they are sources that have powered life on the planet for as long as there has been a planet. We do not need to destroy the earth [as in mining and drilling] to make use of them.

… and the code might ask of any harvest, including energy, that our purpose be worth of the harvest.”


With honor and respect, take only what you need and take only what is given.

My beloved and I are happily living here on Sugarberry Slope. Very few trees had to come down in the building of our home. I tearfully apologized to the stately white mulberry who once stood where my bathtub sits, took a clipping to root from it, asked forgiveness. For every tree sacrificed (the mulberry and some overcrowded red cedars), 10 more have been planted in its place, and the wood will be repurposed into usable items and heat for our home.

We watch the deer graze in the clover field we planted, and at the corn feeder we provide them for the winter. Neither of us are hunters. I’m a vegetarian and he just doesn’t care for deer meat. We don’t need anything from the deer, so we will not take from them. I hope they will respect us in the same way and not become destructive as we’ve been warned they will. I know they wander into other properties owned by hunters and that is fine. They aren’t our deer, as much as we like to think they are. We understand that the herds need to be managed and without natural predators, humans will have to step in. I just cannot be that human.

Hundreds of species of birds entertain us outside our living room windows. I put out seed and fruit for them, and fill the birdbath with fresh water. I plant sunflowers and I leave the coral berry shrubs where they grow. This is the price of admission for the show they put on for us in their costumes of red, blue, shiny black, yellow, and brown. I’ve placed bee houses around the property, and we have plans to build bat houses as well. Sod was only put down to prevent erosion until the natural grasses take over.

I am putting in a raised garden without tilling and damaging the land to do it. The success or failure of such endeavor will depend partly on my willingness to set aside my own arrogance and learn from others who have done this type of gardening before me, but mostly it will depend on luck and the blessings of nature. I know that. I am looking forward with great anticipation and hope to the spring and with it the growth of vegetables, buds on the fruit trees, the flowers I planted in beds and the wildflowers from the seeds thrown haphazardly wherever I felt like it.

I am doing my best to take only what is offered, and only what I need, and to honor the gift and the Givers of such gifts.

Living here is my bliss and has been the answer to the at first subtle but then ever-loudening call I have heard from the moment I left as a young adult – “come back home.” Daddy leaving it to us, confirmed the call.  I will do my best to honor it, as it is what I need and it is what I was given.

But, then again, confirmation bias is an easy and convenient tool.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions.

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