“From the very beginning of the world, the other species were a lifeboat for the people,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer. “Now, we must be theirs.”

Kimmerer, a professor of environmental and forest biology and a member of the Potawatomi Native American tribe, describes herself as someone who was “raised by strawberries” in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass.”

She explains that this phrase has a double meaning. She was not only raised near strawberry fields, but the plants taught her, raised her on their lessons as she and her siblings spent summers among them. Strawberries exposed “a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet.”

Kimmerer learned from strawberries the difference between a gift and a commodity. A gift establishes a bond between the giver and receiver. A promise to reciprocate. The plants gave Kimmerer sweet berries and in return, she would care for them, clearing spaces in the dirt for new strawberry plants to take root.

“Even now ... finding a patch of wild strawberries still touches me with a sensation of surprise,” she writes, “a feeling of unworthiness and gratitude for the generosity and kindness that comes with an unexpected gift all wrapped in red and green.”

I, too, have benefited from the gift of berries. Thick blackberry vines sprawled along the length of our yard in the Oregon countryside where I grew up. On early August mornings, before the humid heat sauntered down, I would slip out the back door with a blue mixing bowl in hand, sometimes a cat or a little brother at my heels, and run toward the promise of plump berries. If I filled the bowl to the very top — and restrained from diverting too many to my mouth instead — there would be enough for my mom and me to make blackberry cobbler. My time among the blackberry bushes was time spent in nature’s generosity as I watched the bees dance with the little white flowers before those flowers turned into the dark berries I adored.

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The Earth gives us gifts, not as an afterthought, but as part of its flourishing, because as Kimmerer beautifully pens it, “all flourishing is mutual.” The fourth verse of my favorite hymn reminds me of the celebration that should come with the daily gifts we receive: “Dear Mother Earth, who day by day / Unfoldest blessings on our way, / Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Another hymn joyously sings, “For the beauty of the earth, / For the beauty of the skies, / For the love which from our birth / Over and around us lies.” The beauty enveloping us, the gift of berries and blossoms, the gift of a giving Earth, is love.

When we give or receive a gift, our bodies react by forming a bond. Our brains release oxytocin, “a neuropeptide that signals trust, safety, and connection,” according to the American Psychological Association. Through the sacrificing of time and resources, we connect ourselves with those to whom we wish to give. Throughout the entire process of selecting, making and anticipating the gift giving, the reward pathways in our brains are activated.

When we see the Earth in a gift-giving context, it changes how we interact with the world around us. We are less likely to take without restraint and more likely to find ways to give back or give to others. When I receive a gift, I feel an immediate urge to give something in return, to express my gratitude and love for the giver. When we see the Earth as a giver, we understand that our bond through its gifts requires our reciprocity. We have been given much, and we have taken much, from the Earth. But how much are we giving back?

This Earth Day, on April 22nd, we can begin our service to the Earth and continue it throughout the year by recognizing the gifts the Earth has given to us and finding ways to reciprocate. Here are some ideas to start your celebration:

  • Learn about the plants native to your area and how they give to their ecosystem.
  • Pick up trash in your neighborhood or local park.
  • Repurpose or donate objects instead of throwing them away.
  • Plant trees or care for a garden.
  • Go on a walk through nature without distractions and appreciate the beauty.
  • Continue the gift of giving by sharing what the Earth has given to you with others.

The Earth is ready to give us everything. Gifts, not commodities for payment. The promise of reciprocity bonds us to it as we take and give back what we can. Kimmerer learned this lesson from strawberries and continues to help others find it: “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.”

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