On Sustainability, Reciprocity and Trees

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Native American author Robin Wall Kimmerer expands the concept of sustainability to a broader vision of reciprocity between people and the rest of the living world. Sustainability implies that it’s OK to squeeze as much as we can out of the natural world as long as we do not kill it. Reciprocity implies giving back as much to the natural ecosystems that sustain us as we take from them. It’s a very different mind-set.

Take trees for example. Trees are vastly under-appreciated, considering the many life-giving benefits they confer on us humans, starting with producing the oxygen we breathe and sequestering the carbon dioxide we exhale, and including apples, nuts, maple syrup, wildlife habitat, windbreaks, swings, cool shade, brilliant fall foliage, sylvan scents, soothing whispers of rustling leaves, and countless other gifts that contribute immeasurably to the quality of our lives.

One way to relate to trees is to learn to identify them. Twenty-one species of trees are listed in the database of wildlife sightings in Sharon, but there are many more species of trees in Sharon that have yet to be recorded. Grab a camera and go for a walk along one of Sharon’s numerous hiking trails to see if you can find other species of trees, and record them HERE. A free cell phone app called Seek can help with identification of wild plants and animals. This activity is especially rewarding when done in the company of children, family and friends.

Another way to relate to our life-giving forests is to join the fight to protect them from proposals to incinerate them for electricity (euphemistically referred to as biomass).

We can learn a lot about reciprocity from indigenous cultures that subsist in harmony and balance with the natural world around them. And in the long run our own subsistence may depend on it.

These two huge sugar maples along the Billings Loop at the Moose Hill Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon are named George and Martha because they took root around the same time that George and Martha Washington were born.

Trees in Sharon – photo by Paul Lauenstein

Trees in Sharon – digital art by Milt Lauenstein, rendered using the above photo