Plum Tree Ponderings

When I was younger I thought of gifts only as things that were exchanged on holidays and birthdays: toys, money, anything that could be bought or sold but that I received “for free.”

Now, when I think of gifts, what comes to mind are the less tangible things: time, thought, effort. The things that can’t be purchased in a store, or that can’t be quantified, or that people might not even know they’re giving to you. I have also come to think of gifts not as things that you receive on Christmas – or other times when people might expect to give and receive gifts – but as the things that arrive when you least expect it.

But I also believe there is truth in the common wisdom that you have to be open to receiving gifts; that you have to adopt a certain mindset that allows you to be receptive to, and aware of, the gifts you may be being given. This article in particular, I thought, summed up well my experience with gift-giving and gift-receiving:

No one ever taught me how to receive. Not a compliment; I am a master at countering any comment with insight about all my faults. Not a gift; I immediately feel the need to give something in return, preferably bigger. Not a kindness; I wave people away from helping me in a grocery line, no matter that I am dropping bread as I speak.

How could I have gone through so much life and have no experience with such a fundamental act as the ability to receive?

As I begin to examine this, I realize for me receiving involves vulnerability. When I give, I feel in charge. When I receive, I feel less.

Give feels like an action word; receive feels like something passive. Yet I can see how mistaken I am. Giving and receiving are yin and yang, the equivalent of the infinity symbol—looping back and forth, neither side larger than the other, both integral to the larger whole.

But I am becoming more open to receiving gifts: a few weeks ago I wrote about the gift of free lemons I found on the sidewalk, and just yesterday I experienced a similar moment on my walk around the neighborhood. I came across a plum tree that I only noticed because the over-ripen fruit that had fallen from its branches made splashes of bright reds and purples on the road. I looked up and saw, camouflaged in the tree’s purpley-red leaves, a few small, cherry-sized plum fruits that remained clinging to its branches. I reached up and picked two of the fruits and was shocked to discover their sweetness upon putting them in my mouth.

As I sucked the juices from the plum, rolling the pit around in my mouth once its flesh was gone, I noticed how I savored its flavor: first full and sweet as I bit into the skin, then a bit of sour as I reached a piece of its unripened flesh.

I noticed how my experience of eating this fruit – that I had received as an unexpected gift – was so different from how I might have eaten a plum that I purchased at the grocery store. Something about the way I had come across the plum – as a gift from nature, rather than a store-bought object – fundamentally changed how I interacted with it.

I think of a book I read recently (thanks, Dana, for the recommendation!) called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. In it, its author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, discusses nature through the lens of both modern science and indigenous wisdom. When I get home from my encounter with the plum tree I go to my bookshelf and find the passages from her book that I’d highlighted:

Perhaps it was because I’d read this book that I had this momentary awareness of my relationship to the plum, and I’m grateful for it. And I think about how, if we truly receive and appreciate nature’s gifts, we also cultivate a relationship with nature that is inherent with respect, gratitude, and reciprocity – in essence, the one native people have always had. It’s the same notion that’s described in the blog article: when we receive a gift, we are allowing ourselves to partake in a cycle that relies on both giving and receiving, and that both parts of the process are made more full as a result.

Nowhere to Be

Nowhere to Be (a “poem” I wrote typed on my phone while on a walk)

What a privilege it is to have nowhere to be
this morning, outdoors, with the cold wind on my face.
I pass the construction workers on the main street nearby
as the sun rises
and I yell “good morning” and they yell “good morning” back
“Have a wonderful day!” we say.
They are working
and soon I will be, too, but for now
I have nowhere to be
but here, outdoors, with the sun shining on my face.


I love walks. I’m thinking of all the wonderful walks I’ve been on over the past few months. Coronavirus sucks a lot a lot a lot but I am thankful for the time it has given me to walk. Yesterday I watched a Sierra Club livestream about post-election work for environmental justice and Leslie Fields (fucking badass, by the way) said it beautifully: “One of the few silver linings about this syndemic…is that people have really gotten outdoors. People have really explored their local parks, they’ve explored their national parks, they’ve just explored their neighborhood better and gotten to know their neighborhoods. How do we bottle these feelings of connectivity and make sure it lasts when we get through this terrible time?”

Actually, the parenthetical appreciation for Leslie is not enough: WHAT A F*CKIN BADASS!!!!!! If you’re interested in the wisdom she has to share about environmental justice and the work we can do together, you can watch the recording here (22:15 onward is where she makes some of my favorite comments).

And as usual, a blog post that started about something (walking) ended up with me ranting about something else (badass women doing incredible work for environmental justice). That’s the point of writing – or any kind of critical thinking, really – though, right? To make connections between things? To find relations and intersections between everything we read and experience and consume?


Some of my favorite walking memories & photos from the past month:

With Dana along the coast in Half Moon Bay as the sun set. Golden hour with a golden gal, if you will:

With Thomas along the Tuolumne River on my birthday weekend. We sat along the edge of the river on the most wonderful, peaceful morning:

By myself through our new neighborhood. Moving from San Francisco to Berkeley has given me an entirely new 5-block radius to explore:

I brought home one of the pineapple guavas pictured above because I hadn’t seen any since Thomas and I did a hike along the Nā Pali Coast on our honeymoon. We hiked the full Kalalau Trail and had enough food for the round trip journey, but we (naïvely) underestimated the Hawaiian summer heat and humidity and ran out of water halfway through. On the trail home we picked pineapple guavas from surrounding trees and sucked their juices for hydration. I guess it worked, considering we made it back alive. And here’s a fun fact: the pineapple guavas are actually an invasive species and pose an ecological threat to the endemic flora and fauna in Hawaii.

A little thank you, then, to the random house in Berkeley who reminded me of our honeymoon adventure. (Thomas wouldn’t eat the guava, though, which was disappointing.)

Without Expectation

The morning air is cold and dry. Beneath the trees, on the trails covered with cracked and faded-brown leaves, it smells like winter. There is no one else around and I imagine myself on a mountain.

I am trying on this Monday morning to approach the week “without expectation.” I say these words to myself on the empty trail; they seem truer when I speak them aloud.

Maybe it’s because I am now “officially” a year older – my birthday was last week – that my thoughts about where I should be at this point in my life, or what I should have accomplished, are worse than usual. My tendency to compare myself to others has been strong and inevitably I’ve been feeling bad about myself. (“Why aren’t you this?” “Why haven’t you done that?” “If you weren’t so lazy you could have [xyz].”

Maybe, too, my anxiety is running especially high in anticipation of next week’s election – I know I’m not alone in feeling scared. I oscillate between doing the small things I can (donating, voting, writing postcards) and being paralyzed by fear and helplessness.

Usually when things are uncertain and I feel bad about myself I return to unhelpful coping mechanisms to maintain a semblance of control. I make plans for things I “need” to do or accomplish that week; I’ll sign up for too much; I’ll put pressure on myself to accomplish something grand. My expectations of myself are unrealistic and founded on fear and shame rather than pride and self-esteem. They are harmful rather than helpful as I always end up feeling worse when I (inevitably) cannot meet the exceedingly high expectations I have set for myself. In addition, I am unable to celebrate whatever things I may have accomplished because anything less than my original expectation is automatic failure. It’s all-or-nothing in my mind: perfection or disaster, there is no in between.

So there is no list of “things I need to do in order to be good enough/not fail” this Monday morning. I sit with the part of me that wants to give in to this compulsion to plan, to act, to expect of myself, but I don’t give in to it. Instead I close my weekly planner and go for a walk. (To be more explicit: a walk, rather than some intense exercise or a workout with a goal in mind. This is me slowing down. Without expectation.)


Monday evening: I lie in bed with Thomas, we watch an episode of “The Great British Bake Show.” In a shocking turn of events, I have not saved the world today. I have not single-handedly influenced the results of next week’s election; I have not founded my dream nonprofit; I have not run a world-record-breaking time on the trail nearby. And if I had started my day by expecting these things of myself…well, let’s be honest, none of them were going to happen anyway. My expectations would have done nothing but set me up for feeling like a failure at the end of the day. My belief that these expectations “motivate me” is unfounded. In retrospect, not once has setting too-high expectations meant I’ve achieved more. If anything I am more motivated when I begin from a place of acceptance and self-esteem: that I am OK as I am, that whatever I do or don’t do that day has no bearing on my worth as a person.

Am I overthinking my birthday? Probably. But it feels good to write this out, to acknowledge and give voice to parts of myself I’m ashamed of. Also – and maybe this will be the more optimistic part 2 of my “birthday reflection” series – Thomas took me to Sonoma for some amazing wine-tasting and so, as we lie in bed watching adorable British people bake biscuits, my anxieties are equally matched by my gratitude in this first day of my next year of life.