Wild-rice wisdom: letting up and slowing down

Christina Capecchi

By Christina Capecchi

It was a difficult decision for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa to suspend its wild rice harvest last fall.

The Native American tribe in northern Minnesota shepherds Nett Lake, the world’s largest wild rice lake. Its harvest is a source of pride, identity, revenue and renown. To forgo an entire ricing season marked a major setback.

But the growing conditions had been poor — cold weather, little rain — and the tribe’s Department of Natural Resources, Conservation Committee and spiritual advisor agreed it would be best to close Nett Lake, allowing the unharvested rice to reseed the lake for the benefit of future crops.

“This is disappointing news,” the tribal chairman told a reporter, “but we have to remember that nature runs in cycles.”


He was right, and last year’s prudence allowed for this year’s prosperity: the best harvest in more than a decade. The lake yielded more than 1 million pounds of rich wild rice. 

I got to see the large, colorful grain on a trip this week. I have been working mornings and nights, weekdays and weekends, and my getaway up north felt overdue. It wasn’t a long visit, but my packing revealed a desire for retreat: a journal, a prayer book, an Anna Quindlen novel, an Anne of Green Gables soundtrack, and a few blank greeting cards with Maya Angelou quotes and a dusting of gold.

I thought about the resistance Bois Forte must have faced in canceling a ricing season, the trumping of long-term benefits over short-term demands, the abiding respect for nature’s cycles. And I took a couple days off with no guilt. It may seem counterintuitive, but the tribe’s skipped season makes the case convincingly: rest ensures a more fruitful harvest.        

So I enjoyed the scenery —the amber leaves, the leaping deer, the sense of autumn gracefully bending to winter. After a hot bath and a long sleep, I woke before the alarm sounded feeling refreshed.  

I returned to an e-mail from a colleague. “It feels like we’ve been going a million miles an hour lately,” she wrote.

As I scrolled through my favorite blogs, I paused at a fellow twenty-something’s post. “There hasn’t been much down time,” it began. “I kept thinking it was going to slow down eventually, but I think it’s not.”

The word “down” jumped out at me — slowing down, craving down time. So much of our daily grind is about being up: We wake up, stand up, show up, speak up, hurry up, follow up, buck up, clean up, check up, cheer up, change it up. 

Maybe we all just need a little more down.

This month’s readings urge us to step back from “the anxieties of daily life” to “be vigilant at all times,” because workaholics will miss the Lord’s coming.

Our Holy Father echoes that message on his annual vacation, when he plays piano and strolls through the pines. Down time, Pope Benedict XVI has said, provides “an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving.”

It is the perfect way to draw into the season and mindset of Thanksgiving. When I slow down, I can move beyond the year’s obvious blessings, the baby and bride who joined our family on the same September day, to relish the details: the way my grandma coos when she holds Abigail Grace, the way my dad smiles when Jodie walks into the room, the way our hearts keep expanding. 

“Thank you” is the simplest, sweetest prayer. So slow down and sing it out.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. E-mail her at christina@readchristina.com.)

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