To Slash A Papaya Tree

Have you ever seen slashes on a papaya tree? Shallow knife wounds not intended to chop her down but merely to bleed her. The farmer said this tree in particular has not fruited, unlike her peers planted at the same time.

“She’s too complacent,” he said. “Got to make her work harder.”

But what if she’s not ready? She might want to grow deeper roots first in case of a future drought, or bigger leaves first to harvest more sunlight for tastier fruits, or dedicate energy to her health first before fruiting. She might want to reach for the stars first before having kids.

“No, she’s taking up prime real estate and has to pay for it.”

Maybe she’s a late bloomer?

“No time for that. In our world, employees get a pay cut if they don’t meet KPIs. Kids get punished if they don’t keep up with their age group. Everyone’s gotta work, plants included.”

And so the papaya tree gave up her life plan of being a late bloomer, while girls continue cutting their wrists with razor blades…

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The way we garden will differ greatly depending on whether we see the harvest as an entitlement, or a gift. If we treat it as a gift, we will be thankful for receiving any harvest. That’s why stumbling upon a small pumpkin hidden under the leaves always brings a smile to the gardener. The farmer who demands bigger, faster, and more will never feel the same delight. A paycheck, while economically much more significant, will soon be forgotten unlike the first time you harvested your puny eggplant.

I am reminded of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass. In this thoroughly enjoyable book she introduced me to the idea of The Honorable Harvest. It’s easy to forget it in the daily busyness of farming and life, but it’s something that I always try to return to.

The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:

  • Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last.
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 
  • Take only what you need and leave some for others.
  • Use everything that you take. 
  • Take only that which is given to you. 
  • Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 
  • Be grateful. 
  • Reciprocate the gift.
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

– Taken from “The “Honorable Harvest”: Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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