BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, INDIGENOUS WISDOM, SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE, AND THE TEACHINGS OF PLANTS BY Robin Wall Kimmerer may be one of the most important books I’ve ever read, and though so many of you have already read it, I thought I would add my voice to the chorus of readers singing its praises. Milkweed has just issued a second hardcover edition with a stamped linen cover, deckled edges, and five beautiful illustrations by artist Nate Christopherson.
One of the most profound takeaways for me came from the chapter on making a black ash basket. In a class taught by John Pigeon, a member of the renowned Pigeon family of Potawatomi basket makers. In John’s class, the class does not assemble a basket from ready made splints, they go out into the woods and find their tree – recognizing that the tree is a living thing — and asking its permission to harvest it. “Traditional harvesters recognize the individuality of each tree as a person, a nonhuman forest person.” This passage, illustrates the responsibility of humans to the natural world:
“ . . . every once in a while, with a basket in hand, or a peach or a pencil, there is that moment when the mind and spirit open to all the connections, to all the lives and our responsibility to use them well. And just in that moment, I can hear John Pigeon say, ‘Slow down – it’s thirty years of a tree’s life you’ve got in your hands there. Don’t you owe it a few minutes to think about what you’ll do with it?’”
Throughout Kimmerer’s work, the symbiotic relationships between all living things are ever present. A mindful approach to the relationships between humans, plants, and animals and their interdependence upon each other are foundational to her understanding and teaching of biology – and living.
I wonder when and how our relationships to the land, animals, and plants were severed to the point in which we considered them other? Was it in the industrial age? When we no longer had a connection to the hunting and gathering aspects of our food sources? And is this process something that barreled down a continuum to when we were able to consider other humans, different from ourselves, as others, separate from our humanity in the way we saw the humanity of plants and animals separate from our own human existence?
Kimmerer writes lyrically, with the heart and eye of a poet, and the mind of a botanist. BRAIDING SWEETGRASS should be required reading. How do we get back the connections we have lost? Whatever it takes, I feel as though Robin Wall Kimmerer’s BRAIDING SWEETGRASS will be an element in that confluence, that coming together again, for me. The problem and the solution both laid out before us in this beautiful collection.
While reading BRAIDING SWEETGRASS, I wondered how different our world might be with a Native American Secretary of the Interior. Instead of looking to profit margins of large corporations, might we look also at our responsibility to care for the land, the animals and plants and humans who live there? Might we slow down and in the words of John Pigeon, consider the life that exists in a place and what we should do with it? In her poetic voice, Kimmerer writes that overdevelopment and overconsumption, are destroying the planet.
“People often ask me what one thing I would recommend to restore relationship between land and people,” Kimmerer writes, “My answer is almost always ‘Plant a garden.’ It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of people. A garden is a nursery for nurturing connection, the soil for cultivation of practical reverence . . . once you develop a relationship with a little patch of earth, it becomes a seed itself. Something essential happens in a vegetable garden. It’s a place where if you can’t say ‘I love you’ out loud, you can say it in seeds. And the land will reciprocate, in beans.”
Dear Reader, pick up a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass and then . . . go plant a garden.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on 90.7 WTIP Grand Marais or stream them from the web at www.wtip.org the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7:00 pm.