Review – Braiding Sweetgrass

It is not all that often that a book teaches so much in such a beautiful way. Every essay in Braiding Sweetgrass is enjoyable, overflowing with insight and information not only about plants, but of life, love, and the interconnection of everything.

Written by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass blends indigenous wisdom with science with poetic language that is readable and inspiring.

The “Thanksgiving Address” is an amazing way to thank the earth and everything living on it. The words aim to cultivate gratitude for what we have, dispelling the desire to want more.

We put our minds together as one and thank all the birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them the gift of beautiful songs. Each morning they greet the day and with their songs remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader and to watch over the world. To all the Birds, from the smallest to the largest, we send our joyful greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.

From the Thanksgiving Address, page 111

In her essay on the Three Sisters, Kimmerer explains the acts of reciprocity that corn, beans, and squash give to each other. I’ve heard about gardening with these plants before, but nowhere has it been so poetically explained, not only in ecological terms. The way these plants interact provide for a balanced diet and so much more.

Stories about sweetgrass is braided into the essays, explaining the beauty and importance of these plant. It is an important gift from Mother Earth that should be cherished and respected.

The theme of reciprocity is weaved throughout as well. This basic yet underused concept is that we need to give back for all that we are freely given. Much more than a metaphor, when we give and others give back, everyone benefits. Plants and animals give us food. We must give them the habitats they need to thrive. We need to nurture their well being if we hope to remain well ourselves.

The natural world, the world all around us is constantly being degraded. News stories quickly bring sadness and hopelessness. But as Kimmerer says, “Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair.” We can restore land if we are active in doing so. Damage to the earth can be stopped.

Check out the Society for Ecological Restoration.

This idea of restoration is especially when dealing with Windigo. Windigo is an indigenous, cannibalistic humanoid that is always hungry. It wants to feed on flesh and is never satiated. And it is real.

Windigo is what has become of our society. The desire to always want more even when we have plenty. We have collectively let it happen where we can destroy land unblinkingly in order to capitalize on getting more: possessions, wealth, likes, whatever. But it can be defeated.

Kimmerer explains throughout how we can defeat Windigo, although there is a dedicated essay that spells it out. Restoration, Honorable Harvests and Thanksgiving are some of the ways we can stop Windigo in his tracks. We need to start loving the land again.

Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, besides being a great author, mother, scientist, and teacher, founded the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She is also the author of Gathering Moss.

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