Turkey Tracks: March 10, 2020
I LOVE BRAIDING SWEETGRASS
See that pencil in the fold of this book?
I know that when I get a pencil and start underlining and writing in the text margins that I’ve gotten hold of a book that is making me think, is creating strong emotions, and is engaging me in deeper ways.
BRAIDED SWEETGRASS is that kind of book, and I highly recommend it to you.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a professor of botany AND a native American. In this book, she is calling us to think about a blending of the “objective” dictates of western botany science with the native American view that we humans are part of a complex interrelated world of being. Western botany describes and labels, but Kimmerer, with her enchanting stories, argues that this practice misses the song that plants sing to the world.
Kimmerer’s arguments, told by comparing cultural stories and her lived experiences which are imbued with native American culture, demonstrate how the stories cultures form create and sustain how we act in the world. Western botany, with its taxonomies, creates “things” that can be owned and controlled, while native American stories place people within the web of all that exists. With the latter sensibility comes responsibility for the web and a demand for gratitude for all its riches so freely given to us.
I finally understand why native Americans did not seek to own land, but to share it in ways that support both the land and the people who live on it and all that the land supports. Kimmerer illustrates this principal of strength in shared community with real-world botanical examples.
Today, as humans face how our misuse of the land and its riches has created global warming and terrible poverty for many, maybe it’s time to step back and at least think about the songs other life forms are singing.
Kimmerer’s writing in no way turns its back on science. In lyrical, beautiful prose she takes modern botany and uses it as a springboard to create a much deeper understanding of how various plants’ relationship to the world relates to her own life experiences and to the specific history of her people. She asks “why” goldenrod and purple asters bloom together in the fall—and answers in scientific terms that also shows these plants interrelationships with other life forms at this particular season.
I am fascinated with this book. And, grateful to Kimmerer for her life, her science, and for her writing.
PS: there is an earlier book, GATHERING MOSS, and yes, I will be getting hold of that one as well.