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Listen to the living world around you

Braiding Sweetgrass

by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Milkweed Editions, 2013

As a scientist and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Kimmerer weaves together stories of indigenous traditions, her experiences as a botanist, professor, mother, and practitioner of crafting and harvesting. And always, she is listening to the living world around her.

Braiding Sweetgrass has five sections, each naming an interaction of the author and sweetgrass: planting, tending, picking, braiding and burning. The essays describe both literal and spiritual relationships. For example, when Kimmerer talks about tending sweetgrass she says she does not take without receiving consent, does not take without giving thanks or an offering of some kind, and does not take it all.

“We don’t have to figure everything by ourselves: there are intelligences other than our own, teachers all around us. Imagine how much less lonely the world would be,” Kimmerer says in a chapter that beautifully illustrates how cultural and spiritual perspectives shape language—and vice versa.

Her words are vivid, precise, gentle and lyrical. She expresses gratitude for the generosity in nature and asks herself and her readers what we can give back to the earth. “Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. In return for the privilege of breath.”

Jean Maust lives in Tenino and is an active reader.

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