As you come out of hibernation this spring, Braiding Sweetgrass is the book to read to reawaken your relationship with the land. Through delicious sentences and a slow reverence for the natural world, Robin Wall Kimmerer shares indigenous wisdom about ecology in this series of essays and stories. She is at once poet, storyteller, botanist, observer, student, teacher, and mother. And it is this pairing of scientific detail and poetic verse that kept me turning the pages. Kimmerer writes, “On a day like this, when the fiddleheads are unfurling and the air is petal soft, I am awash in longing. I know that ‘though shalt not covet thy neighbor’s chloroplasts’ is good advice and yet I must confess to full-blown chlorophyll envy.” See what I mean?
Over the course of this year, Midwest Food Connection staff has read several chapters from Braiding Sweetgrass for our book club. Already, her writing has influenced our teaching. At the start of our Middle School lesson on Sugar Sweetened Beverages, we now tell the story of Nanabozho, the Anishinaabe Original Man, and how it came to be that maple sap flows from the trees like water, requiring hard work to boil it into syrup. The indigenous practice of growing the Three Sisters comes up in many of our lessons, from Bountiful Beans to Gifts of Grain. Our students can tell you how corn supports the bean tendrils, how beans fix the nitrogen in the soil for squash, who crawls out over the ground to prevent weeds and retain water. Her language of “mutual flourishing” infuses our daily teaching, as we learn with our students about how best to care for the plants and animals that sustain us.
This spring, I look forward to bringing the teachings of the Honorable Harvest to my students in the garden. Kimmerer explains the Honorable Harvest as “the indigenous canon of principles and practices that govern the exchange of life for life.” These guidelines are taught, not written down. They are a daily practice that involve knowing “the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.” This practice asks you to introduce yourself to the plant or being you harvest, to ask permission before taking, to take only what you need and never more than half, to use it respectfully, to share, and to give a gift in return. “Sustain the ones who sustain you,” Kimmerer writes, “and the earth will last forever.”
Braiding Sweetgrass has become one of the few books that I reference often, searching for that amazing story about why yellow and purple flowers grow together or how pecan trees communicate. My hope is that the more I read these words, the more I intuit the lessons. And the better I am able to teach kindness and reciprocity.
Want to learn more?
Listen to Kimmerer’s wonderful conversation with Krista Tippet.
Come to this free event in Minneapolis to hear Kimmerer in conversation with Heid E. Erdrich.