I loved this book and give it an enthusiastic five stars.
I’m a little late in sampling this profoundly rich and hopeful little volume about the environment. It was written in 2013, by an extraordinary woman who is both indigenous (of the Potawatomi tribe) and an accomplished professor of Ecology. On the cover, Elizabeth Gilbert calls this book, “a hymn of love to the world.” That it is.
Deep respect and reverence for the earth and all its beings is a wonderful thing to read about. Do we remember enough that all “beings” are not human? This book emphasizes that “all flourishing is mutual,” and I think that is incredibly important keep in mind.
Braiding Sweetgrass bridges the world of Native American wisdom, with scientific inquiry, in a seamless, poetic, inspired, and meaningful way. She sees and shares the amplitude of gifts the earth gives us, and stimulates us to want give back to nature out of love. This is so much more effective than the preachy, doomsday guilt trip most environmental books dish out these days. Her writing is eloquent and beautiful. Her repeated theme is that of reciprocity, and to nurture us to be “rooted in a culture of gratitude.”
The land is more than real estate; it makes our lives possible, and we in turn care for it. It is a gift not a commodity, and gifts are tied to responsibility, requiring giving back. A society based on consumption is not sustainable. But that is not the only way to be. Consider a society deeply based on reciprocity. Native peoples do not take more than they need. They never take more than half. Nature is not merely a resource, an object to be plundered or simply taken for granted; instead, it is an active verb, a being that is in itself, doing. As in any relationship exchange, thanks must be offered and care in response is necessary.
“My natural inclination was to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide. But science is rigorous in separating the observer from the observed, and the observed from the observer.”
Just as sweetgrass is braided together, this author braids Native American stories, scientific plant expertise, and personal memoir to make a gorgeous, essential weave. This is non-fiction at its best.
I listened to this book on audio, which is read by the author. I enjoyed her voice – I want to know her!– and it was great to hear her pronounce the words both in indigenous tongue and in scientific parlance that I would not have known how to say. But I also wish I had read it in print to enjoy and savor (and be able to share with you!) more of the sumptuous quality of her prose, and glean some of her fantastic turns of phrase, to repeatedly enjoy again and again. Either way, I highly recommend reading this.
I chose this title for my “science, nature, or sustainability” category in my Reading Challenge for 2020, but it is probably heading to my “favorite books of the year” category instead!