Braiding Sweetgrass: A Book For All of Us

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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