Thought for the Day: Gifts and Responsibilities

“We are all bound by a covenant of reciprocity; plant breath for animal breath, winter and summer, predator and prey, grass and fire, night and day, living and dying. Water knows this, clouds know this. Soil and rocks know they are dancing in a continuous giveaway of making, unmaking and making again the earth,” says Dr. Robin Kimmerer, winner of the 2015 Nature Writing Award for her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Teachings, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.  


Dr. Robin Kimmerer – image from On Being with Krista Tippet

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ph.D., is a State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse and founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.  She grew up in the forests of New York – and wondered,  “Why is the world so beautiful?”    She has pursued this question as a botanist and a member of the Potawatomi Nation.

. . . “[R]emember that the earth is a gift that we must pass on, just as it came to us. We forget at our peril. When we forget, the dances we’ll need will be for mourning. For the passing of polar bears, the silence of cranes, for the death of rivers and the memory of snow.

. . . ‘I am so grateful to be alive and to be graduating in this precarious time, [said Dr. Kimmerer’s student], ‘it is the best possible circumstance, because when everything is on the line, when we hover at the tipping point, I know that I can be the difference, together we can tip the balance, our acts have more meaning today than at any time in history. It is our moment.’

This is what the great philosopher Joanna Macy has called the Great Turning, the essential adventure of our time, shifting from the age of industrial growth and exploitation to the age of life-sustaining civilization. Her work and the work of countless others, yours included describe the accelerating momentum of the transition already in progress, in acts large and small, as humans reclaim an ancient way of knowing in which human life is aligned with ecological processes, not against them. The question is; will the circle turn in time to save us?  That’s up to us.

. . . In Anishinaabe teachings we say that an educated person is one who knows what her gifts are, and how to use them for good in the world. . . .

In the teachings of my ancestors, responsibilities and gifts are understood as two sides of the same coin. The possession of a gift is coupled with a duty to use it for the benefit of all. A thrush is given the gift of song, and so has a responsibility to greet the day with music, which is in turn received as a gift to us as we watch the sky grow pink each morning. Salmon have the gift of travel, so they accept the duty of carrying food upriver. So when we ask ourselves, what is our responsibility, we are also asking ‘What is our gift?’

As human people, most recently evolved here, we lack the gifts of our companion species: of nitrogen fixation, pollination, and three-thousand-mile migrations under magnetic guidance. We can’t even photosynthesize. But we carry gifts of our own.


Plant our gardens – Earth takes care of us; we need to take care of the Earth. Photo at University of GA, Costa Rica, sustainable farm

How do we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? With gratitude, with ceremony, by paying attention, acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in healing, in children, in ballots, in stories of the past and imagination for the future, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by raising our voices and raising a ruckus, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction.


A happy, healthy rooster – at the UGA Eco-Lodge in San Luis, Costa Rica

. . . Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.

Excerpt from: <;.

Photo on 3-11-16 at 4.55 PM #2

Let’s take care of each other – Earth and humans [Sarah on our deck].  Photo by Johnny Kristel

Aloha, Renée

To listen to  an interview with Dr. Kimmerer, go to On Being with Krista Tippett


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

5 responses to “Thought for the Day: Gifts and Responsibilities”

  1. Rosita says :

    I sent you the link about both potcake dogs & extinct poi dogs. I didn’t sent you a link about BSDs, because there’s none link about them on Wikipedia 😦 but I can describe their appearance: they’re commonly medium-sized dogs, floppy-eared, with sable-like tails, thin bodies, usually with shorthaired fur, which can be in practically any color. BSDs are locally called as ‘vira-latas’, which means, literally, ‘scavengers’, in Portuguese. This term is pretty offensive, don’t you agree? It would be the same to call a multiracial person as scavenger due to its mixed heritage! And NOT all BSDs scavenge. To say the true, not all BSDs live on streets. Many of them have owners and are well cared for and never get out of home 🙂 it’s interesting to mention that BSDs remember potcake dogs. IDK if have had any approximation of the two breeds, but I might presume that yes, it occurred, even due to the proximity of Brazil, specially Brazilian North, with the Caribbean, as the Venezuelan islands, Martinique, Surinam, Guyana and French Guyana. so I presume that those dogs share both physical and genetic similarities. Do actually Hawaiian dogs remember old poi dogs? And how’s Hawaii climate in mid July? What’s the most beautiful Hawaiian beach (at least in your opinion?

  2. Rosita says :

    Renee, my friend,
    I have a not-too-good-new to yuh: Mayaro virus, a new disease who’s transmitted by aedes aegypti mosquito, is spreading rapid on some cities of inner Brazil, more specifically here on Pará state (!) and on Goiás. I’ll send yuh a link about this disease….
    There’s more one reason to use mosquito repellent, bcuz we don’t know its effects on human body. I hope it don’t cause outbreaks on Belém, although I know it’s just a matter of time. I read it have chikungunya-like symptoms, and it’s very concerning, bcuz if it follow the same patterns of CHIKV (the virus who causes chikungunya fever), it debilitate people so much. I’ll stay using mosquito repellent so I hope I’ll not catch those diseases anymore 😅 And I read that zika virus can cause serious damage EVEN ON ADULTS’s brain, so, we should be more cautious with those nasty mosquitoes, bcuz the time in which they just annoyed us with bites is once upon a time. Now, what we should do is not let pounded water at our homes neither go to places who’re infested with mosquitoes without using mosquito repellent. And I hope that you like the link about Mayaro virus and plz be cautious with mosquitoes when visiting Brazil (to say the true, all Latin America, specially the Caribbean and forest regions), OK? 🙂

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi, Rosita: I’m sorry to hear that Latin America and other areas have yet another mosquito-carried illness. Using mosquito repellent day and night, wearing long sleeves and pants and socks, and getting rid of standing water all helps. We’ve read that putting coconut oil on your exposed skin helps keep it too slippery for the mosquitos to bite. Be careful, my friend. Thanks for the new information. Aloha, Renée

  3. Jeany says :

    Renee and Barry,
    I’ve been enjoying your blogs….the article by Dr. Kimmerer was especially interesting and inspiring. “Why is the world so beautiful?” I think about this every morning as I watch the sunrise over the Chicago skyline on the way to work. It’s so beautiful. The joy that it gives me is felt throughout my day and is passed on to my students. Their lives are so difficult and so ignored by society, all people see is the violence and not the causes.
    We will be honoring several Anishinaabe Firekeepers in August at Northeastern. They continue the old traditions of honoring the earth and all life…..I’m very excited about this celebration.
    I miss you guys, hope to see you soon(maybe in Maui??)😎
    Much love, Jeany

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Jeany: It’s great to hear from you. I think you’ll like my latest blog. I had no idea that the U.S. was still applying such unjust laws. And I know that the work you do is really important in the respect and love you show your students – and the way you open their world. Come visit us. Aloha, Renée

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