I was eight weeks into a Gone Viking book tour, exploring Vancouver Island and some BC Gulf Islands. Travel restrictions had eased to a point we could travel around our own province, and I was taking advantage by seeing as much as I could. Or at least the parts with a coastline. We were experiencing record-breaking heat and being near forest and sea not only added to the majesty of it all but served as natural air conditioners to boot.
I returned to Windowseat Books in Nanaimo, one of Vancouver Island’s great indie bookstores. Andrée, the store’s affable owner, had repainted the store’s front window (by hand!) with her fun bookish logo, and while I love to browse, I came in with one title in mind. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.
“As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on ‘a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.’”
BC’s coastal archipelagos felt like an ideal locale to immerse myself in this author’s poetic prose, a blend of science, personal experience, memoir, and Indigenous teachings. And it was, although I’m certain this book speaks directly to readers everywhere. The text tapped into a longing to garden and plant things I never knew was in me. Perhaps it lay dormant all these years, apart from that avocado pit on toothpicks I put in a cup as a child.
“Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.”
This book is both timely and timeless, from environmental lessons and lore long forgotten to hammering home critical points of what must be done now, ensuring our world realigns once more on a path we can sustain long term. The fact that I read this book to an ambient score of ravens conversing, wind in tall cedars, and a white-noise wash of sea only added to a sense of sharing and natural wonder.
If you love nature, storytelling, and the pleasure of learning while reading, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass delivers, a satisfying and ultimately uplifting read. Yes, there’s work to be done. But every bit of it will be worthwhile.
About the Author
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. She tours widely and has been featured on NPR’s On Being with Krista Trippett and in 2015 addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.” Kimmerer lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.
- Title: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
- Author: Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Publisher: Milkweed Editions, 2020
- ISBN: 9781571311771
- Pages: 408 pp