review by Bari Caton
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Published in 2013 by Milkweed Editions, 392 pages
“When we braid wiingaashk, or sweetgrass, we are braiding the hair of Mother Earth, showing her our loving attention, our care for her beauty and well-being, in gratitude for all she has given us.” So says botanist and plant ecology professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, who cherishes her native Potawatomi culture and its teachings about human relationships with nature as much as she values the scientific approach to inquiry into the essence of the natural world. She deftly weaves stories of traditional native perspectives on the deep connections between humans and an ecological universe full of bounty, contrasting them with opposite perspectives promulgated by a different cosmology that led to human banishment from enjoying the fruits of the garden of paradise. “Same species, same earth, different stories.” As she explains, the Western tradition puts humans at the “pinnacle of evolution [with] plants at the bottom,” whereas Native wisdom teaches that humans’ rightful place is at the bottom, with much to learn from the plant and animal species, which have been here longer than any of us humans and are so much more experienced.
This perception is at the heart of Braiding Sweetgrass. Kimmerer has created a joyful exploration of what it means to be human in an environment that we are in the process of destroying for political and economic reasons – without regard to the natural order and symmetry of things. Her goal is to bring together the “two lenses of knowledge” to demonstrate why the benefits of enhanced scientific knowledge requires us to acknowledge, embrace and celebrate the truth of our interdependence with the “generosity of the earth.”
Five main sections – “Planting Sweetgrass, Tending Sweetgrass, Picking Sweetgrass, Braiding Sweetgrass” and “Burning Sweetgrass” – each contain a collection of Native stories with discussion of how they apply to today’s world and the lessons we can draw from their teachings. The stories include “The Council of Pecans, The Gift of Strawberries, Epiphany in the Beans, The Honorable Harvest, Learning the Grammar of Animacy, The Sound of Silverbells, Putting Down Roots, Windigo Footprints, Sitting in a Circle,” and many more. Find yourself a copy in either print or ebook format, keep it in your backpack or on your nightstand, and dip into it as often as you need a wake-up call or a reminder. Share it with friends. This one’s a keeper, folks, and we here at Firefly Gathering heartily recommend it.
** Special thanks to Sara Calloway, one of our newsletter readers who recommended this best-selling book for inclusion in the FFG Book Nook.