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Posts Tagged ‘Nonfiction November’

I discovered ‘Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants‘ by Robin Wall Kimmerer years back through a friend’s recommendation. I finally got around to reading it last week.

I thought ‘Braiding Sweetgrass‘ was one whole book. But while reading it, I realized that it is a collection of essays. They are all interconnected, of course. There are thirty two essays in the book. Or thirty two chapters, if you want to look at it that way. In the course of these interconnected essays, Robin Wall Kimmerer narrates native American legends, describes how the native American way of life was interwoven with the environment and was respectful of the environment and how it was a sustainable way of life. Kimmerer also talks about her own family, her native American roots, how she got into studying botany and biology and how she became a scientist, her experiences in research and teaching and shares her thoughts on parenting. She also touches on some of the big issues, the environmental issues which are important today, how we got where we are now, what needs to be done to fix things and make them better. She weaves in the indigenous wisdom that she has gleaned through her family members and native American elders, through the course of the book. It is a book which is hard to classify – it is part memoir, part a book about botany, part about wildlife, part about environmental science, part about native American history, language, culture, legends, part a critique on colonization, all these woven into one cohesive whole. It is big, sprawling, beautiful.

The book is also designed for the modern reader – you can pick and choose the essays you want to read, without loss of continuity. The book achieves that perfect but elusive balance between discreteness and continuity – marrying discrete essays into a continuous, cohesive, harmonious whole.

I loved all the essays in the book. But I loved some more than the others. My favourites were ‘Learning the Grammar of Animacy‘ which is about how native American languages are very different from English and how they are dying today and how a few dedicated people are trying to revive them, ‘Witch Hazel‘ which is an essay written from Kimmerer’s daughter’s perspective and is about a beautiful person called Hazel, ‘A Mother’s Work‘, which is an incredibly beautiful essay on being a mother, and ‘Windigo Footprints‘ in which Kimmerer looks at modern environmental issues through the lens of a native American legend.

I loved ‘Braiding Sweetgrass‘. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I can’t wait to read more of Kimmerer’s books.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

On Water

“Most other places I know, water is a discrete entity. It is hemmed in by well-defined boundaries: lakeshores, stream banks, the great rocky coastline. You can stand at its edge and say “this is water” and “this is land.” Those fish and those tadpoles are of the water realm; these trees, these mosses, and these four-leggeds are creatures of the land. But here in these misty forests those edges seem to blur, with rain so fine and constant as to be indistinguishable from air and cedars wrapped with cloud so dense that only their outlines emerge. Water doesn’t seem to make a clear distinction between gaseous phase and liquid. The air merely touches a leaf or a tendril of my hair and suddenly a drop appears.”

On Being a Good Mother

“I had known it would happen from the first time I held her— from that moment on, all her growing would be away from me. It is the fundamental unfairness of parenthood that if we do our jobs well, the deepest bond we are given will walk out the door with a wave over the shoulder. We get good training along the way. We learn to say “Have a great time, sweetie” while we are longing to pull them back to safety. And against all the evolutionary imperatives of protecting our gene pool, we give them car keys. And freedom. It’s our job. And I wanted to be a good mother.”

On Sweetgrass

“Tom unlocked the door and we stepped inside. The still air smelled of sweetgrass hanging from the rafters. What words can capture that smell? The fragrance of your mother’s newly washed hair as she holds you close, the melancholy smell of summer slipping into fall, the smell of memory that makes you close your eyes for a moment, and then a moment longer.”

Have you read ‘Braiding Sweetgrass‘? What do you think about it?

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