Pokeberry, Pine and People

This guest post was written by Dan Bensonoff, Permaculture Initiative Coordinator at UMass

Instinctively, many of us recognize that reciprocity, the act of giving and receiving gifts, is the basic foundation of gratitude and therefore, lasting relationships. When we receive a gift it encourages us to give one in turn. When we perceive the gifts that are always present in our surroundings, we are apt to praise and care for them.

And so, at the 11/15/18 Talking Truth event “With Thanks: Pre-Thanksgiving Connections in Food & Art”, we practiced reciprocity by first receiving the various gifts of our local environment and then offering one of our own. After enjoying a hearty potluck meal- itself a time-honored form of creating reciprocal relationships- our facilitator, MFA art student Emily Tareila, presented us with a display of handmade plant-based inks: purple pokeberry, brown walnut, and other earthy tones. Emily then asked us to use these plant essences to paint a place that feels intimate, cozy, known. A place that is or was a true home for us. Lastly, we were asked to write a message to someone we associate with this place we’ve just painted and then send it to them.

As I painted with pokeberry, and drank my pine hemlock tea, I couldn’t help but feel nourished and to pour that gratitude onto someone who I once made a home with, someone who I think about constantly but rarely communicate with anymore. Though no turkey nor cranberries were served, this was a chance to celebrate a veritable thanks-giving.


Reference Services Librarian, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Liaision to Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and Hillel.

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