Braiding Sweetgrass: A Hug for The Lost Heart, Book Review

“A hymn of love to the world” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Books on A Book Shelf In Front of A Pink Wall
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Time To Read:

4 minutes

If you’re anything like me, you have a stack of unread books in your bookshelf– each one even more neglected by a new library rental, Barnes & Nobles purchase, or Kindle download. Part of me believes I read books a lot faster and a lot more often than I actually do. The other, more truthful part of me admits I gain most joy in books when I listen to the ebb and flow of my urge to read specific titles. Meaning, if by the time I finish my current book I no longer want to read my newest purchase, I forgo the new book and peruse my shelves for an older, unread book.

The Book Braiding Sweetgrass by author Robin-Wall Kimmerer
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall-Kimmerer

Last month, the call towards the unread was a book titled Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall-Kimmerer. Though I don’t plan on changing up my “read it when I feel inspired” motto, I do find myself wishing I had read Braiding Sweetgrass sooner since it has easily skyrocketed into one of my favorite books of all time. 

From the very first page, Kimmerer displays her knack for bringing you into her world – which she so easily makes feel like your own world— like home. Indeed, she dismantles the illusion of the other, reminding readers that her Earth is our Earth. As Kimmerer notes,

“for all of us, becoming Indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it”.

Robin Wall-Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Though I am not Indigenous to where I was born, I find myself using my Seek Plant Identification App even more often now— gently trying to learn the names of my quietest neighbors. I am not Indigenous to where I was born, but perhaps I can raise my children to be; to know the names of the local flora and fauna, of their uses for humanity, their ecosystem-services, and above all, of their sovereignty.

The Sweet Prose

Braiding Sweetgrass’s brilliance lies in its ability to seamlessly intertwine the author’s personal story with botanical teachings, creating a narrative that is both intimate and universal. Many times in the book I found myself tearing up or outright bawling, because she spoke a language so tender and close to my heart, yet so often overlooked and looked down upon by the systems that be.

Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a distinguished botanist, blends her Indigenous wisdom and scientific expertise to create a bridge between the two worlds. Her storytelling is a dance that celebrates the reciprocity between humans and the earth, urging us to recognize nature not as a commodity but as a gift. Even the book title itself symbolizes this spirit of reciprocity and gratitude, as a sweetgrass braid engenders appreciation of the profound interconnectedness of all life forms.

A Hill With Wild Grasses Blowing In the Wind on A Sunny Day

Each chapter is a testament to Kimmerer’s poetic prowess. Her words paint vivid images that linger in the mind, evoking the scent of sweetgrass, the rustle of leaves, and the delicate balance of ecosystems. Even with my university degree in conservation biology, at times I admit I had to resort to Google Images to visualize the picture she spoke of, since I had no concept of what some plants looked like. A glaring reflection of my own lack of Indigenous knowledge. Nevertheless, each chapter unfolds like a delicate bloom, revealing layers of insight and understanding.

A Call to braid, a call to action

One of the book’s strengths is its ability to inspire action. If everyone on Earth read and took to heart the messages within the chapters, I think we would be much much better off re: the climate crisis. Kimmerer’s contemplations alone will inspire you to engage with the natural world more mindfully, and the practical steps she cites to do so helps bridge the gap between readers’ intention and reality. Whether discussing sustainable harvesting, ecological restoration, or the importance of ceremony, she empowers readers to become active participants in the stewardship of the earth. I myself have taken many of her tips to heart— having created small yet meaningful daily ceremonies that remind me to consume with intention.

All in all, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is a transformative read. Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s masterful storytelling and profound insights create a literary landscape where science and spirituality harmonize. Her book is a treasure trove of wisdom, inviting readers to braid their own sweetgrass of ecological consciousness, gratitude, and love for the living world. Reading it is not just an intellectual journey but a soulful awakening to the beauty and responsibilities we carry as inhabitants of this magnificent planet. If you only read one book for the rest of the year, please let it be Braiding Sweetgrass.

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