For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.   Remember?

Howe, Marian. “Singularity.”, 2019.

We just started our segment on “What is community?” here at the OE, and it’s come at an opportune time. This is the point in the semester at which living in community stops being a fun little experiment and we realize that authentic community actually takes lots of hard work that sometimes isn’t all that fun.

Not that I’m not having fun! Last week everyone at the OE went on a backpacking trip. My group hiked in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, where we encountered pikas, chipmunks, and black bears, ate way too many wild huckleberries, and were chased by Bigfoot (in the form of an angry hornet nest) out of his territory.

One concept we talked about in the segment we just finished up was the gift economy: a more expansive view of the exchange of goods than the one that capitalism offers. The gift economy is built on gifts that constantly cycle through communities, creating ties of kinship that ensure that no one has too much or not enough.

The gift economy is a way to honor the gifts that nature gives us. Instead of only taking, we can show gratitude to nature by giving back. This can take many different forms: advocacy for policies that protect natural spaces; wasting less and stewarding the natural resources we have; educating other people about the gifts of nature and the best ways to take care of them… the possibilities for giving back are endless.

The gift economy ties us to each other and to nature by constantly cycling gifts through relationships. Instead of the alienation from labor that capitalism provokes, the gift economy brings communities closer together. I’ve seen that happening here at the OE already: We cook each other food from vegetables that we receive from the garden. We take turns collecting waste streams, chopping wood, and preserving food for our community. I find myself feeling grateful for things that never would have occurred to me at home: I am grateful that my vegetable scraps are taken away to feed the chickens and the garden. I am grateful that my cabin is warm in the morning because my lovely cabin-mate starts the woodstove fire. I am grateful that the wind and sun dry my clothes after I do laundry. Everything is a gift.

it is hallelujah time,

the swallows tracing an arc

of praise just off our balcony,

the mountains snow-sparkling

in gratitude

Browning, Sarah. “When the sun returns.” Poetry, January 2016.
Photo credit: Ashlee!

Published by AnnaLeah Lacoss

Class of 2025 Major | English Minor | Peace and Justice Studies Program | Oregon Extension Location | Oregon, U.S.A.

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  1. love the ‘gift economy’ concept! I love your reflective posts and reading about the small moments of gratitude you’re experiencing there.

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