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Monday, July 6, 2015

Mutuality versus Reciprocity

Bow is very sweet, All unbidden, he notices the dry skin on my hand, and he volunteers to groom it.

His touch is very gentle, but the grooming he gives me is thorough.

You might think that this kind treatment is in return for something else that I have done for him, but in fact it's not. This is not quid pro quo or one hand washes the other. Bow feels an inner compulsion to groom my hand, and he only does it when he feels like it. It is neither planned nor solicited.

I have been preoccupied by the concept of mutuality, which is why whatever flower is in season that attracts the most pollinators has been topmost on my list of things to photograph. Just before the trip to Bloomington, that flower was the purple milkweed, and I even took risks trying to get close to the butterflies. I got a touch of poison ivy in one elbow capturing those photos.

Right now, the plant attracting the most insects is the Virginia Mountain Mint.

But there are other beautiful flowers that are blooming now, too, and yet they attract no insects. Take the Tall Phlox.

These flowers are beautiful and fragrant, yet no bees or butterflies visit them.

Maybe it's because the phlox grows back from the root every spring that it does not need to attract pollinators, and not needing to do so, it just naturally doesn't.  Where there is no mutual benefit, the unplanned exchange just does not seem to take place. However, I have spotted rabbits within sight of the phlox, placidly grazing on the lawn.

The rabbit will not tell me where the predators are; it just runs off if I get too close. Does the rabbit realize that the culling effect of predators on the rabbit population is responsible for its own good health?

Meanwhile, when I least expect it, the kitten emerges from a field full of wildflowers.

Its every move says; "I am a mighty hunter. I am king of the beasts!" Then it meows to imply that I should feed it. Will it ever catch a mouse to earn its keep, I wonder?

This afternoon I picked another ripe wild plum, and I gave it to Bow.

He took it out of the bowl and stared at it intently.

Then he slipped it unceremoniously into his mouth and ate it.

In the end all that was left was the pit. 

Now lots of people would misunderstand. They might think: there's reciprocity for you! He groomed her finger, so she gave him a wild plum. But I would have given him that plum, whether he had groomed my finger or not. And he would have groomed my finger, regardless of whether later in the day I'd discover a wild plum to give him. What we have here is a relationship of mutuality, not reciprocity  -- the same kind of relationship that the butterflies have with the mountain mint, or the wild plum tree has with the animals that eat its fruit.


  1. I read this post a few days ago and thought I remembered a poem about this same subject matter, but I still can't recall the title of it...will have to find it and share it!

  2. This is one I thought of....but there's one...playing somewhere in the back of my mind....

    Extract from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet
    And now you ask in your heart,
    "How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?"
    Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
    But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
    For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
    And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
    And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.

    People of Orphalese, be in your pleasures like the flowers and the bees.