With all the difficulties going on in the world, it’s easy to lose sight of hope and slide into grief and despair. And while it’s important to acknowledge and process these feelings, a steady diet of them is indigestible. We need equal parts of inspiration and genuine wisdom and guidance to give us hope.
That’s why I want to give a shout out to Robin Wall Kimmerer and her book, Braiding Sweetgrass (Milkweed Editions, 2013). I haven’t been so profoundly moved by a book in a long time. I can’t sing its praises loudly enough. Elizabeth Gilbert called it “A hymn of love to the world,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Kimmerer is Native American as well as a scientist trained in botany. In this book she weaves together wisdom from her Indigenous roots, her scientific knowledge, and what she’s learned from her personal relationship with plants into healing stories. What she’s concocted is far more than the sum of its parts. And the message is clear: we need to come into right relationship with the Earth and the natural world.
She explains that from the Indigenous perspective, rather than being its crowning glory, humans are the newcomers in the evolutionary process. The rest of creation knows so much more than we do about how to live in harmony with nature, and we’d do well to pay attention and learn from these Elders. Reciprocity is at the heart of her, and their, message. Take care of what is given and it will take care of us, too.
None of this is done with a holier than thou preaching tone but more as an offering of her own genuine reflection on where we find ourselves and how we got here. The grief of loss is woven into her stories: the loss of Indigenous wisdom, language and culture, as well as the health of our dear Earth. But more importantly, she also points to what she believes is the way through and out of our predicament.
Again and again she circles around to the same lessons of gratitude for what is given and generosity in giving back. These are the truest expressions of understanding and respecting how deeply interconnected all life is. Whether she’s writing about trees like maples or cedars, or lichens growing on rocks, her curiosity and reverence for life reverberates throughout the entire book.
My words can’t do hers justice. Kimmerer is an eloquent writer. This is not a book you rush through to get to the end, but rather savor like a meal you don’t want to end. Each chapter is a serving of delicious and nutritious morsels you’ll want to roll around in your mouth to stimulate your taste buds and take your time chewing. And like the sweetgrass of the title, burned for ceremonial purposes, the fragrance will linger long after you’ve put the book down.