She steps into a patch of sweetgrass and asks its permission to take some. She waits. When she feels that she has been accepted, she leaves a bit of tobacco from her pouch as a gift, according to the Law of Reciprocity. Only then does she begin to harvest some stems of sweetgrass—never the first plant, and never more than half. Those who take all of a species or clearcut the land fall prey to the Wendigo, a ravenous beast of indigenous folklore who is never satiated and is always seeking to devour.
Robin Wall Kimmerer takes her students on camping trips out to the forest or swamp so that they can turn their Latin nomenclature into true knowledge. Kimmerer has found a way to combine her Ph.D. in plant ecology with her ancestral Potawatomi traditional wisdom in practices that will bring healing to the land, the plants, and the humans who live here. As she writes of her daughters’ childhoods, her nurturing spirit shines through stories of maple sugaring and pond reclamation. The chapters are interwoven with Potawatomi creation myths, memoirs of family and friends, and detailed scientific experiments. Kimmerer believes that we have lost touch with the natural world, and that we have forfeited so much peace and wisdom from not listening and receiving its gifts.
Everywhere I turned, I heard Braiding Sweetgrass mentioned as the best resource to teach us how to reconnect spiritually with creation and what was variously called the “non-human” world, the “other-than-human” world, or the “more-than-human” world. I listened to the audiobook, which is almost seventeen hours long and is read in Kimmerer’s soft, kind voice. Although it was originally published in 2013, our library system still has holds lists on our many copies of both the print and digital editions. In other words, the message is enduring and is growing more and more important every day. The stories and ideas are so absorbing that I often arrived at work with no clear memory of my commute, floating in a peaceful, thoughtful state.
If you are a botanist or a camper, an ecologist or a gardener, or just someone who watches water disappearing in western North America and swallowing Florida, Kimmerer has a unique perspective on how we can begin to heal. She can stand in a rainstorm and watch droplets form on moss, name every tiny bit of the plants in Latin, and then draw spiritual lessons from her observations. Those of us who are descendants of European immigrants, steeped in consumerism and rugged individualism, have much to learn from indigenous understandings of the land and of human relationships with the natural world.
Very highly recommended. A must-read.
Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook edition of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.