How is your September going so far? I am feeling that in-between sense of the weather saying “Summer is still here!” yet the fall schedule has returned or is about to begin.
I’m enrolled in three Ayurveda classes at Yoga Veda Institute this term: Clinical Assessment, Chikitsa (Therapy),and Herbology II. Plus a few yoga teacher training classes. They started last week, but then here in the U.S. we had the Labor Day holiday, so this week there are no classes. And it’s hot here right now–sunny and in the 80s F. Since my daughter hasn’t started back to school yet, I want to go outside, lay in the hammock with a cool drink and a stack of books.
Which brings me to a reading recommendation:
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer might be my top pick for nonfiction this year. Although it was written back in 2013, this title didn’t find me until this year. Knowing that Elizabeth Gilbert was inspired to write The Signature of All Things after reading Kimmerer’s earlier book, Gathering Moss, made me want to read Braiding Sweetgrass, which Gilbert also recommends. It’s an exquisitely written blend of personal narrative, myth, legend, history, indigenous wisdom, and science.
I thought I would like it, but more in “should read” sort of way. I LOVED and ENJOYED every page. Whether she shares about pond life, swamps, mountains, moss, salamanders, or maple trees, Kimmerer’s rich storytelling sparkled and her connection to and love of plants and the planet are riveting.
She describes experiences of gently introducing her ecology students to the natural world. She relates how raising her daughters in Upstate New York makes her think of how the earth is a good mother. We learn about endangered Black Ash tree and the symbiotic relationship between the trees and indigenous basketweavers. She describes walking through wet, mossy cedar forests in the West, feeling the land loving us back in the garden harvest, and planting sweetgrass in places it used to grow.
What I appreciated was how she shared the earth-honoring values of the indigenous peoples who lived on Turtle Island long before white people did. The beauty of ceremony and ritual, the thoughtfulness of the traditions, and the deep respect and care for all of nature is a way of life we need to return to. So do yourself and nature a gigantic favor and please read Braiding Sweetgrass, unless you have already!
I’ll end with a favorite quote from the chapter “Asters and Goldenrod”:
“That September pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other. Science and art–matter and spirit, indigenous knowledge and Western science–can they be goldenrod and asters for each other? When I am in their presence, their beauty asks me for reciprocity, to be the complementary color, to make something beautiful in response.”
(p.47, Braiding Sweetgrass)
I hope you can read this book, and if you already have, please share about it in comments!
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We, this people, on a small and lonely planet Traveling through casual space Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns To a destination where all signs tell us It is possible and imperative that we learn A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it To the day of peacemaking When we release our fingers From fists of hostility And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean When battlefields and coliseum No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters Up with the bruised and bloody grass To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches The screaming racket in the temples have ceased When the pennants are waving gaily When the banners of the world tremble Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders And children dress their dolls in flags of truce When land mines of death have been removed And the aged can walk into evenings of peace When religious ritual is not perfumed By the incense of burning flesh And childhood dreams are not kicked awake By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it Then we will confess that not the Pyramids With their stones set in mysterious perfection Nor the Gardens of Babylon Hanging as eternal beauty In our collective memory Not the Grand Canyon Kindled into delicious color By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji Stretching to the Rising Sun Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor, Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace We, this people on this mote of matter In whose mouths abide cankerous words Which challenge our very existence Yet out of those same mouths Come songs of such exquisite sweetness That the heart falters in its labor And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet Whose hands can strike with such abandon That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness That the haughty neck is happy to bow And the proud back is glad to bend Out of such chaos, of such contradiction We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it We, this people, on this wayward, floating body Created on this earth, of this earth Have the power to fashion for this earth A climate where every man and every woman Can live freely without sanctimonious piety Without crippling fear
When we come to it We must confess that we are the possible We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world That is when, and only when We come to it.
There’s just no accounting for happiness, or the way it turns up like a prodigal who comes back to the dust at your feet having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive? You make a feast in honor of what was lost, and take from its place the finest garment, which you saved for an occasion you could not imagine, and you weep night and day to know that you were not abandoned, that happiness saved its most extreme form for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never knew about, who flies a single-engine plane onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes into town, and inquires at every door until he finds you asleep midafternoon as you so often are during the unmerciful hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell. It comes to the woman sweeping the street with a birch broom, to the child whose mother has passed out from drink. It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker, and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots in the night. It even comes to the boulder in the perpetual shade of pine barrens, to rain falling on the open sea, to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
In a culvert by the airport under crumbling slag wine colored water seeps to this pool the two does drink from: each sipping as the other keeps look out. The skyline is a blur of barcode and microchip. Even at home we hold the narrowest purchase. No arcs of tracer fire. No caravans of fleeing families. Only this suspicion ripples through our circles of lamp glow (as you sweep the faint sweat from your forehead and flip another page in your novel) this sense that all we own is the invisible web of our words and touches silence and fabulation all make believe and real as the two does out scavenging through rose hips and shattered drywall: their presence in the space around them liveliest just before they vanish.
My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird— equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat.