When you open this book, you begin to fall inside of yourself. I can’t promise you the fall will be gentle or painless, but I can promise you the journey through the path of the prose will be exquisitely beautiful.
I was introduced to Braiding Sweetgrass many months ago by two close friends of mine. “You must read it,” they both told me and so finally I did. For Mother’s Day I requested a copy and got it. It took me two months to slowly devour its pages, savoring a few hundred words each night before I went to sleep. That’s how I recommend reading it. Alone and in a quiet space where your mind can wander into the depths of its narratives and find that sometimes uncomfortable, but always welcoming place, of home.
Naturalist, scientist, teacher, mother, and writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer has woven together stories from her own life, combined with indigenous wisdom, into her book Braiding Sweetgrass. Although there are so many words that rang through the walls of my heart and beat it fiercely with the call of truth, below is the passage that I marked because its words sand directly to the core of my being. In this one small paragraph, I felt the author calling me home. Her longing, also mine. A longing that I believe exists somewhere inside each of our cellular memories.
“I want to stand by the river in my finest dress. I want to sing, strong and hard, and stomp my feet with a hundred others so that the waters hum with our happiness. I want to dance for the renewal of the world.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, pg. 251
The world needs more books like Braiding Sweetgrass, written in languages that are approachable to each of us. Books that stir the detritus of indifference and even despair. Books that break open the shell of the self and allow it to bleed a bit before it seeks healing. Healing that can always be found in the Mother we all share.
About halfway through the book, Kimmerer tells us the story of “The Honorable Harvest.” On page 177 she writes, “I am not the vibrant leaves on the forest floor — I am the woman with the basket, and how I fill it is a question that matters. If we are fully awake, a moral question arises as we extinguish the other lives around us on behalf of our own. Whether we are digging wild leeks or going to the mall, how do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?”
Indigenous wisdom, as Kimmerer tells us, teaches to take “only that which is given.” How far most of us have traveled from that edict. How far we have traveled from the honorable harvest where we stand before the offering and take only what is offered.
While picking wild leeks, the author pauses and studies the abundance before her. She pauses to ask permission of the plant before she indulges in the taking of its life. In return for a “yes,” she digs into a pouch holding tobacco leaves and leaves a gift in exchange.
I have been practicing “The Honorable Harvest” with the land surrounding my house. Beside my natural lawn there is a patch of wild berries. This year the bushes are filled with abundance. I have formed a quiet agreement with the land and its offering. Take just as far as you can reach, leave the others for the wildlife. Each day, when I go out with my bowl to fill, I pick just as far as I can reach. If I reach too far, I am scolded by a thorn in my foot or arm, and so I back off and remind myself not to give into greed. Each day I fall a little more in love with the wild bushes and their plump purple berries that seem to magically appear while I sleep. And, I think they know it. As Kimmerer shows us in her stories, the Earth loves her children and honors our love with her gifts. When we love her back, the harvest blooms with abundance.
If you feel the calling, as I did, to purchase a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass, please consider finding it at your local bookstore. And when you do, perhaps take a moment to honor, in your individual way, the trees that formed its pages, the soil, water, and sun that nourished their growth, and the author and the bookstore for bringing its exquisite teachings into your hands.
To discover more about Braiding Sweetgrass and Robin Wall Kimmerer, please visit these links:
The publisher of the book: Milkweed
Dr. Kimmerer’s faculty page at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry
Robin Wall Kimmerer on Wikipedia
Are you an author with a vision for a better world? Do you have a published book of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction that uplifts and empowers readers to create a more positive inner and outer environment? If so, I’d love to hear more about it. On a “Better World of Books,” I interview authors and review books of all genres that offer a vision for a better world. If you think your work is a part of this vision, please contact Alethea.