In the opening passage of Braiding Sweetgrass, author Robin Wall Kimmerer describes the process of braiding Hierochloe odorata, an aromatic perennial herb with slender seedheads and something of the scent of vanilla that holds a sacred space in certain indigenous rituals. In so doing, she gives a reader a poignant glimpse into the way she will tell her stories:
Of course you can do it by yourself—by tying one end to a chair, or by holding it in your teeth and braiding backward away from yourself—but the sweetest way is to have someone else hold the end so that you pull gently against each other, all the while leaning in, head to head, chatting and laughing, watching each other’s hands, one holding steady while the other shifts the slim bundles over one another, each in its turn. Linked by sweetgrass, there is reciprocity between you, linked by sweetgrass, the holder as vital as the braider.
The stories she will tell have everything to do with the science of plants and trees, like sweetgrass, yes. But she will tell us stories of relationships: between the plants and the earth, between the plants and us, between the earth and us. And she will do it with a tenderness that promises to awaken us into an awareness of these relationships and the kindness of an urgency to restore them. It will be as though we are seated across from her, strands of sweetgrass between us, as we “pull gently against each other, all the while leaning in, head to head.”
Kimmerer’s publisher says this about the book:
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
Starting January 23, we invite you to join us as we explore the riches of this book, tugging against the strands we’re braiding between us, together. (To join us for book clubs, be sure to become a patron, so you can access all the posts and discussions.) In the meantime, whether or not you’re a patron, enjoy this reprint of the first chapter.
Photo by Capture Queen, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by LW Willingham.