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Braiding Sweetgrass

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As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show 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 are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

391 pages, Hardcover

First published October 15, 2013

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About the author

Robin Wall Kimmerer

18 books3,743 followers
Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (also credited as Robin W. Kimmerer) (born 1953) is Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). She is the author of numerous scientific articles, and the book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She is Potawatomi and combines her heritage with her scientific and environmental passions.

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5 stars
65,544 (66%)
4 stars
23,394 (23%)
3 stars
7,161 (7%)
2 stars
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475 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 13,951 reviews
Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,516 followers
September 3, 2014
"What if you were a teacher but had no voice to speak your knowledge? What if you had no language at all and yet there was something you needed to say? Wouldn't you dance it? Wouldn't you act it out? Wouldn't your every movement tell the story? In time you would be so eloquent that just to gaze upon you would reveal it all. And so it is with these silent green lives."- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

In 2007, Yann Martel compiled a reading list for Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (http://newwestminster.bibliocommons.c...). People on Twitter was discussing other books to add to the list to make it more diverse (http://priscillajudd.ca/thexpress/?p=...). Our PM isn’t that great with environmental issues or indigenous issues, so this is one book I would recommend this book to him if he's not too busy meeting panda bears (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto...).

This is by far one of the most important books I’ve read this year. The author is a scientist but she is also a poet. Her writing is absolutely stunning and eloquent. Her love for the land, especially the land she grew up on, comes through very clearly in her writing.

There is acknowledgement that the previously ignored indigenous cultures and knowledge are absolutely essential. As much as I focus on indigenous research in my studies, this is the first time I have seen the focus being on science. This book was definitely a shout out to indigenous culture and knowledge, knowledge that is often ignored by academia, or seen as wishy-washy or not true science:

"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."

The book clearly states the importance of the land, for so many reasons: sustenance, healing, etc. While reading this, I thought of how my mother had had asthma as a child but my grandfather, who was very familiar with traditional African medicine (which was of course seen as backwards by Western medicine) knew which plant medicine to give my mother. She doesn’t have asthma anymore. My grandfather also helped with my sister’s anaemia (by boiling guava leaves in water and giving her the liquid to drink - this helps to replenish iron levels). What sort of knowledge is dying out because people aren’t interested in the land anymore? My grandfather passed away and I wonder who has the knowledge of the herb that cured my mother's asthma.

The author uses incidents from her personal life, as well as myths, to enrich her insight on nature, plants and the land. The book is relatively heavy on the science (biology) but I think basic high school biology knowledge is enough to understand most of the processes.

Also included in the book is the sad history of the Natives in North America, the death of language, the near-extermination of their culture and what it means to the world as a whole:

"In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us....It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be sold."

After reading this, I feel compelled to observe nature more closely, plant vegetables, look at possible relationships between plants, tap maple trees for syrup, something! The most engaging science book I’ve ever read and one I’d recommend to anyone.
Profile Image for Wendy Feltham.
473 reviews
March 28, 2017
It's difficult to rate this book, because it so frequently veered from two to five stars for me. Five stars for the beauty of some of Robin Wall Kimmerer's writing in many essays/chapters. Five stars for introducing me to Sweetgrass, its many Native American traditions, and her message of caring for and showing gratitude for the Earth. Five stars for the author's honest telling of her growth as a learner and a professor, and the impressions she must have made on college students unaccustomed to observing or interacting with nature. But just two stars for the repetitive themes, the disorganization of the book as a whole, the need for editing and shortening in many places. I wish Robin Wall Kimmerer had written three short books instead of one long book. I would have liked to read just about Sweetgrass and the customs surrounding it, to read just about her journey as a Native American scientist and professor, or to read just about her experiences as a mother. The various themes didn't braid together as well as Sweetgrass itself does. I read this book in a book club, and one of the others brought some braided Sweetgrass to our meeting. I felt euphoric inhaling the intense fragrance, and truly understood why the author would name a book after this plant.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
December 13, 2014
One of my goals this year was to read more non-fiction, a goal I believe I accomplished. Never thought I would rate my last three non-fiction reads 5 stars. This was a wonderful, wonderful book. It teaches the reader so many things about plants and nature in general. Different animals and how the indigenous people learned from watching them and plants, the trees. tis is how they learned to survive, when they had little.

teaches us about thankfulness, gratitude and how often we take these wonderful things in nature for granted. How important traditions are, languages and family. How much we can learn from others. I am so glad I bought this book, because though I seldom re-read I can see myself picking this book up and reading a chapter, pretty much any chapter, and reminding myself of all I have. A book I hope never to forget.
Profile Image for Alvaro Perez-Quintero.
436 reviews32 followers
September 30, 2021
OK, this book was a journey and not a precisely pleasant one. I must admit I had my reservations about this book before reading it. As a botanist and indigenous person you'd think this would be right up my alley, but there was something about the description that made it sound it was going to be a lot of new-age spiritual non-sense, and it was a bit of that, but mostly I was pleasantly surprised that it was a more "serious" book than I thought it'd be.

At the beginning I was genuinely pleased with this book, it is poetic, it is beautifully written, it mixes science, and auto-biography, and botany and it was a pleasant read. But then this book just never stops. This is 200 pages longer than it needs to be an reading it becomes a feat of endurance.

All the chapters started to blend together, and I slowly began to lose my mind.

Basically, all chapters follow the same structure, where the author takes a somewhat relatable life experience (like her daughters leaving for university, or talking to her old neighbor), mixes in random facts about a specific plant or natural phenomenon, sprinkle a bit of indigenous tradition, and then bake it all into a "let's respect nature" cake.

By page 200 you've been bludgeoned to death by the words "honorable harvest". All possible metaphors for plants and nature as mothers or sisters have been used so many times, and stretched into a thin rope that you hope chokes you. And you still have almost 200 pages left.

The worst is that there's really nothing to object on the content of the book, one would have to be an asshole to be against appreciating nature and indigenous knowledge. So my rating and this review its not really about the content of the book but about the experience of reading it. I really would've loved this book if it had just stopped 100 pages in, the points had already been beautifully made. Instead it never stopped and my whole experience was ruined.

Music for this book:
Voyagers - Udi Bar-David and R. Carlos Nakai

"What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a member of the democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence? No declarations of political loyalty are required, just a response to a repeated question: "Can we agree to be grateful for all that is given?"

"Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair"

"In return for the priviledge of breadth"
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
March 9, 2021

February's Reading Vlog is out today!
The Written Review
This is a gorgeous book all about nature and science - what more can a girl ask for?

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist by trade and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation - and she combines her passion for plants and history in this book.

Each chapter focuses on a different overlap between science and her culture.

I love that she had a more personal take on science - so often science is emphasized as rigid, observational and above all emotionless.

But in this book you learn about how heartbreak and love can teach you just as well as any double blind study.

I was SO fascinated by this book. I loved, loved, loved just how varied everything was.

From the story of the three sisters (corns, beans and squash) to restoring a culturally significant lake to teaching about how humans and sweetgrass need each other - this book has it all.

If you are looking for an unforgettable nonfiction - this one is for you!!

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
96 reviews28.2k followers
March 28, 2020
This book has taught me so much, hopefully changed me for the better forever. It was heartbreaking to realize my nearly total disconnection from the earth, and painful to see the world again, slowly and in pieces. I'm sure there is still so much I can't see. But I'm grateful for this book and I recommend it to every single person!
Profile Image for Kevin.
289 reviews922 followers
March 9, 2023
“We restore the land, and the land restores us”.

As we struggle to imagine a future not on fire, we are gifted here with an indigenous culture of reciprocity with the land, revived and weaved together with the science of ecology...

The Brilliant:
--In another life, I may have pursued ecology. Instead, I’ve spent my spare time reading deconstructions of capitalism/imperialism. It has been a challenge balancing this deconstruction with the social imagination for healing and reconstruction.
--I can’t remember where I started seeing all the glowing reviews, but it was settled for me when I saw one by Mexie (PhD grad in political economy, find her on YouTube). However, it took patience for my modernist, distracted side to settle into the rhythm of the storytelling; after re-reading the first 3 chapters, things finally clicked, and then the remaining chapters came in waves.
--The author’s journey to relearn her Potawatomi heritage and synthesize it with her scientific/teaching career in plant ecology was the perfect format for a reader even more disconnected from the land and culture. Had this been a collection of indigenous stories, I would not have been ready for it.
--Through her own trials and errors, we begin to see what it means for humans to receive the gifts of the land, establish gratitude, and build relationships of reciprocity with nonhumans and the land. Beautiful examples of symbiosis between plants, animals, and humans are revealed through the author's poetic dance between indigenous stories and ecological science.
--The author explains what the tool of science is useful for and what it is not (i.e. knowing does not build a culture of caring, an "indigenous worldview"), and further contrasts the "practice of science" from the "science worldview" (i.e. in the context of reductionist/materialist control, "the illusion of dominance and control, the separation of knowledge from responsibility").
--We carefully unravel land as property/commodity (in a consumerist society of manufactured scarcity and endless growth), land as natural resource, land as machine (mechanistic reductionism, where humans are the drivers), and, more subtly, land as separate from humans (where humans can only do harm to nature).
--We carefully rebuild land as indigenous, where nonhuman beings are subjects, not objects, and where humans have humility to not be the sole drivers (thus, listening to the wisdom and stories of the nonhuman beings that are our elders on the land). Page by page, story by story, we start to reimagine land as sacred.
--I give detailed breakdowns of nonfiction, but this is a book of stories for you to experience…
I dream of a world guided by a lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an indigenous worldview—­stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.

The Missing:
--I’m all about synthesis, and there’s much work to do with connecting the gifts here with political economy, geopolitics and strategies for systemic change.
--A related synthesis is ecosocialism: socialist political economy + Earth Systems Science; after all, Marx's analysis of capitalism's contradictions ("use value"/"exchange value", "commodity fetishism", endless accumulation, etc.) provides useful insights when comparing market economy vs. gift economy, and his hints at capitalism's rift in social metabolism (relationship between society and nature) is foundational:
-Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System
-The Ecological Rift
-Karl Marx's Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy

--Which reminds me, political economy has not been just deconstruction; some more social imagination examples:

1) Global South’s censored struggles for decolonization, expanded human rights, internationalist nationalism, economic justice, global disarmament, etc.
-Intro: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions
-Details: The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World
-Global decolonization playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npkee...
-Global decolonization and Civil Rights: https://youtu.be/IfQ-zFaAOFk?t=45

2) Radical anthropology on “human economies” (in contrast to “market economies”): Debt: The First 5,000 Years (also heard good reviews for Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition).
...This is related to alternatives to capitalist property regimes ("artificial scarcity"), esp. on “the Commons” ("radical abundance") and revaluation of values, i.e. social reproduction/"carework"/"essential workers" (think COVID19), and of course revaluation of nature (Marxian use-value vs. exchange-value in the market, which reveals the glaring dangers of introducing more market mechanisms to commodify and govern nature):
- Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World
-Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present
-Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works—and How It Fails
-The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values
-Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action
-Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto and Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentring Oppression
-Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle
-Bullshit Jobs: A Theory
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews8,993 followers
November 21, 2020
Powerful book with lots of indigenous wisdom related to science, gratitude, and how we relate to the land. I appreciated Robin Wall Kimmerer’s perspective on giving back to the land considering how much the land gives to us. As a social scientist myself, I found her nuanced ideas about the relationship between western science and indigenous worldviews compelling. Her writing about the importance of maintaining indigenous language and culture also elicited feelings of tenderness and sadness from me. While the discursive style of Braiding Sweetgrass detracted from my enjoyment of it, I still would recommend the book to anyone interested in environmental justice and indigenous worldviews.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
October 16, 2022
This is an important and a beautiful book. We are discussing it here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

Rather than repeating all my thoughts I post the link.

On completion:

I don't give that many books five stars. They have to qualify as amazing. The author writes so you understand the value of nature, of the gift that is given to all of us. She shows us that a gift is tied with responsibility. Only if you understand that you have received a gift do you feel the responsibility to reciprocate. She opens our eyes to what has been given us. She also shows us how to handle the despair one can so easily feel. What is the point? I can do nothing. She gives us hope, and that is what is necessary so we don't just give up!

She wonderfully intertwines science with marvelous tales of the indigenous people. You can read the book just for these tales. You can read the book to learn scientific detail of flora and fauna. For example about strawberries, pecans, cattails, salamanders, maples and of course sweetgrass. Absolutely fascinating! You can read the book for inspiration; she is a single mother who has raised her kids alone. And what a fantastic job she has done. She remains humble. To top it all off she writes beautifully.

Occasionally I felt she was long-winded, but her message had to be made clear so we all really understand. Her message is SO important - to all of us!

This book is available on Kindle. If you try it and you don’t like it, you can get your money back if you return it within a week. What can you lose? I know, I am too pushy……. but I think this is such an important book.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews605 followers
August 24, 2022
Audiobook…..narrated by Robin Wall Kimmerer
….16 hours and 44 minutes

Indigenous people of North America have been using sweetgrass traditionally for religious ceremonies as well as therapeutic purposes.
It’s even been used for a flavoring for tea, tobacco, Candy, soft drinks, and vodka.

….It’s easy to grow …
….Has a sweet history of health and well being …
….sweetgrass thrives in moist, watery environments …
….The original purpose for braiding sweetgrass was for smudging and prayers …
….sweetgrass is listed as an endangered species in the eastern region of the United States …
…. spiritually, sweetgrass symbolizes love, peace, harmony, strength, purity, positivity, and connection to Mother Earth …

My husband, (Paul, the guy I talk about often) and I have both been listening to the audiobook … then having swing-chair conversations in the yard…

We are not done yet — (Paul has less free time than I do - so I wait for him)….

We are still only half way through —and unless Paul takes some full days off (which really can’t happen until next month when we leave for Canada)
Note: We were going to be renting a cabin in Montana to meet our Canadian daughter and her husband- but the plane fare was double the price and ‘long’ layovers.

So… I’ve written a few things here now - a mini review— but I don’t expect Paul and I will be finished with this book for about another month -

As an audiobook ‘reader’ of her book…Robin Wall Kimmerer has a very sweet, gentle, soft voice ….
She is so kindly teaching us to value our planet —
So ‘sweetly’ teaching us about the communication of plants and how much more they know than people…

….Tons of beauty, Indigenous wisdom, and knowledge between our relationship with our natural world as human beings.

….I loved her chapter on wild strawberries—it was mouthwatering juicy delicious storytelling…

….Paul and I haven’t finished the book yet but it’s totally beautiful, captivating informative, sweet (smiley moments of sweetness), with great ancestor-tales side by side with scientific details and poetic language ….
….but in my experience each chapter is a treasure.
Pausing — taking breaks allows the medicine to go down smoothly—
—I’m hoping it to heal my own medical needs — just through osmosis.

Thank you Betsy for the inspiration to read this book 💕
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
June 9, 2023
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”

There is something special about this book. It really speaks to the activist in me and the nature lover in me. And if, like me, you’re into nature writing then this is certainly the book for you; it’s one of the best in the genre I have ever read because of the way it captures the essence of what our role (as humans) should be in the natural world: we are here to protect and nourish, not destroy and overuse. The emphasis here is on gratitude and learning from plants, animals and the natural world as a whole.

Aside from the love of nature the writing possesses, it also stresses the importance of independent thought and academic originality in the face of overwhelming conformist data and rigid thinking. Science can be black and white; it can be data driven, practical and cold: it’s all about observation without really seeing and without really understanding. Robin Wall Kimmerer argues that science can be infused with folklore, stories, and history to enrich it and enhance it. We should never lose the wisdom our ancestors possessed. Kimmerer is from Native American decent; thus, she brings much of her lineage to her writing.

“Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.”

I want to also talk a little bit here about the quality of the prose, of the author’s ability to enchant the reader and capture the essence of the natural world through playing on every sense is of the highest quality. She writes remarkably well and the book flows very well from sentence to sentence, from description to description. However, it loses a star because of how disorganized the chapters are. Don’t get me wrong, I like the way thoughts and stories interrupt the narrative but structurally speaking it is a little bit messy and needs some editing. Other than that, it is a fantastic piece of writing and I recommend it most highly.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,145 reviews2,764 followers
October 7, 2022
4.5 stars, rounded down
This book is definitely out of my normal wheelhouse. But thanks to the recommendation of my granddaughter, I made sure to listen to it. The word braiding in the title is so apt. Braiding involves melding different strands to make one. Here, it’s the merger of science, art, linguistics, memoir and religion to show a different way of seeing the world. If science is an either/or train of thought, an observer vs. the observed, then Klimmmerer wants us to see an all encompassing vision. If the meaning of the book could be distilled down to a single word, it would be reciprocity.
This is a great look at the Indian, specifically the Potawatomi, philosophy. My favorite part was the chapter on linguistics and how the difference in seeing the world plays out in language. I also found her modern interpretation of the Wendigo interesting as our greed is the true evil spirit.
My only sorrow was listening to this rather than reading it. Numerous times, I found myself thinking, “if I were reading this, I’d be highlighting this passage”.
Profile Image for Mel  Thomas.
78 reviews767 followers
December 16, 2022

| AGAINST THE ------|
| IN IT. -----------|
(\__/) ||
(•ㅅ•) ||
/   づ
Profile Image for Kerrin .
305 reviews227 followers
January 28, 2023
Pros: This non-fiction discusses serious issues regarding the ecology that need to be addressed. It is informative about Native American history, beliefs, and culture. Parts of it are charming and insightful. The author does an excellent job at narration. She is a gifted speaker and teacher.

Cons: It is WAY TOO LONG. It took me several weeks to get through the audio. The author comes off as preachy and condescending at times. She tries to make readers feel guilty for not helping salamanders cross the road to safety, not cleaning up polluted lakes, and stealing land from Native Americans. Sometimes there was too much science for the average person. The only reason I didn't give up is that I read it for my book club.

Update: Most of the others in my book club would have rated this 4 to 5-stars. They did not feel the author was preachy, just that she was speaking in a "professor voice".
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,204 reviews3,685 followers
August 8, 2022
Vlog where I reflected daily on one or two chapters: https://youtu.be/825jkeR720g

Beautifully written collection of meditations on plants, wildlife, indigenous teachings, and our relationship to the earth. Thought-provoking, moving, and fascinating by turns- this is a book I can see myself returning to time and again over the years for quiet meditation. It has me rethinking my own relationship to consumption and the land, and what that means as someone living in an urban center. Definitely a new favorite.
Profile Image for Emily Kestrel.
1,110 reviews64 followers
March 26, 2017
This book contains one exceptional essay that I would highly recommend to everyone, "The Sacred and the Superfund." As for the rest of it, although I love the author's core message--that we need to find a relationship to the land based on reciprocity and gratitude, rather than exploitation--I have to admit, I found the book a bit of a struggle to get through. The author has a flowery, repetitive, overly polished writing style that simply did not appeal to me. I would read a couple of essays, find my mind wandering, and then put the book down for a couple of weeks. Then I would find myself thinking about something the author said, decide to give the book another try, read a couple of essays, etc. Clearly I am in the minority here, as this book has some crazy high ratings overall.
Profile Image for David Joy.
Author 9 books1,539 followers
December 2, 2018
One of the most beautiful books I've ever read. I don't know what else to say. It left me at a loss for words. Read it. Just read it.
Profile Image for Kate Savage.
669 reviews120 followers
December 12, 2016
I don't know how to talk about this book. I think it has affected me more than anything else I've ever read.

Each time I picked up this book, I sank into the world of plants and meaning, the slow vegetable world, seen jewel-bright from the underside. It was hard to do errands and think strategically. I thought how we use the word "grassroots" as a buzz phrase when applying for grants, to elbow our way into legitimacy, but Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds me that what the roots of grass really mean is being small and belly-deep in the dirt. It's learning to be whole and humble.

But sometimes I'd feel upset about all this humility. Wall Kimmerer is gentle and kind to moss and salamanders, but also to the settlers and their descendants. She speaks with strength but understanding to those in the cultures and economies that are killing everything she most loves. I wanted her to be tougher on us. In the same way that when I spent a little time with Robin, I wanted to walk behind her with a sign saying "This is the most wise and powerful person you will ever meet," because with her quiet, kind demeanor, I fear others won't listen, will look right past her like they look past the plants and animals she studies.

I thought about the thing anthropologists noticed in egalitarian cultures -- that the ones most respected in the community always talk themselves down. They bring home a huge deer for everyone to eat saying "I don't even know how to shoot an arrow -- this just accidentally happened." Robin's like that, bringing the best words and deep-rooted stories with a it's-no-big-deal shrug. It's the mark of her leadership and importance. She's the anti-Trump: one who leads by actually caring for others.

Which is another part of my experience: I read all this deep hope and wisdom and meaning at a particularly hopeless and idiotic time. I read this book on the night of the election and the morning after, and many moments in the weeks that have followed, a tonic against waves of despair. I'm still not certain what it all means. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas has a part where a book written from an earlier time is taken as a founding spiritual text for a future rebellion -- that's a feeling I got while reading this now. That maybe it's too late for my people, confronting climate change and mass extinctions with a selfish, cruel demagogue at the helm -- but the ones in the deep future who survive and start over could land on Braiding Sweetgrass as their founding spiritual guide and weave love, care, reciprocity into the wreckage.

And then, sometimes reading Robin's words I'd remember that while I'm antsy about some apocalypse, this is already the post-apocalypse for First Nations, and has been for hundreds of years. I think about Standing Rock, and how those who have already lived through unimaginable apocalypse are still resisting, praying, reminding others that water is life.

So even in the worst of it we're awash with gifts. I didn't deserve a book like this but it wound up in my hands, and now I feel very very small, but with a certain big allegiance to the plants and people like this.
Profile Image for marta the book slayer.
427 reviews1,063 followers
November 11, 2021
“This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.”


I was hooked from the first page; the comparison of Sky Woman to Eve was intriguing. I even enjoyed the personal anecdotes, specifically the story of the author's determination to restore her pond to its previous glory so her children can swim in it during summer.

As soon as the chapter on basket weaving began, I started to fall asleep. Beyond this point, the book lacked structure. I didn't really understand what point the author was trying to make. It truthfully seemed never-ending.

I spoke to my friend who recommended this to me about how much I hated it and she admitted to only being 25% of the way through. I can't blame her for recommending the book to me at that point, however upon finishing it, I spared her the time I wasted and told her there is no sense finishing the book.

My advice to you, readers, is the same. Pick up this book. Enjoy the beautiful cover and frayed edges. Read and learn until the point about basket weaving and return the book to your library. Pick a different book up. I hope this is my first and only time recommending people read the book but not finish it.
Profile Image for Barbara.
285 reviews247 followers
October 23, 2022
"Science can be a way of forming intimacy and respect with other species that is rivaled only by the observations of traditional knowledge holders."

Robin Wall Kimmerer had wanted to be a poet before she began her college major in botany. Her skill with words is very evident in her lyrical writing. The descriptions of Native American myths and traditions as well as the beauty of nature are beautiful.

Kimmerer is a member of the Potawatomi nation as well as a professor of botany. Her respect and gratitude for all aspects of nature comes through loud and clear and so does our responsibility to reciprocate what nature provides. I particularly liked her descriptions of clearing algae from a pond, the tedious process of syrup making from tree to table and helping salamanders cross a busy road as they crawled to their mating site. Equally enjoyable was her experience taking a group of botany students on a week long camping trip so they could experience the wonders and gifts of nature first- hand. I wish all students could have that same experience.

Anyone who enjoys being outdoors and thinks we can do more to respect the natural world would enjoy this book. Those who value the indigenous teachings of gratitude to the earth for all it provides would also find this book worthwhile.

There are definitely 5 star sections in this book; however, there are also some 2 star sections. I feel it could have been shorter and less repetitive. I realize there is value in repetition, but the author used the word reciprocity at least 50 times as she told our responsibilities to nature over and over. I also realize her purpose in writing this book may not have been to give answers to the dire environmental issues we are facing. She does state that "Ecological economists argue for reforms that would ground economics in ecological principals" and that "Governments still cling to the notion that human consumption has no consequences". Yes, those are problems, but do you have any suggested solutions? Maybe I am wrong to want them and maybe Ms. Kimmerer will have those suggestions in her next book.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,637 reviews3,889 followers
November 30, 2019
Oh my goodness, what an absolutely gorgeous book with possibly the best nature writing I've ever read. I read this book almost like a book of poetry, and it was a delightful one to sip and savor
Profile Image for Cheryl.
15 reviews9 followers
May 19, 2014
If there is one book you would want the President to read this year, what would it be? This question was asked of a popular fiction writer who took not a moment's thought before saying, my own of course. She is wrong. The book the President should read, that all of us who care about the future of the planet should read, is Robin Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass.

This is one of the most important books written on the environment since Silent
Spring. Kimmerer blends her scientific background as an ethno-botanist with Potawatomi Tradition Ecological Knowledge in an astonishingly poetic book. There are few books that I put down at the end of chapters so that I can take them in and dream around them before going on. This is one of them. The best of books make me have to get up and walk around. (One of those I remember is Red on Red, by Craig Womack.)

Kimmerer was told in college that her reason for wanting to be a botanist was aesthetic rather than scientific. Turns out it is both. I cried when I read this chapter. I was told the same thing in the late sixties, that animals (never mind plants) did not communicate, and had no emotions. Unlike Kimmerer, I decided not to continue as a scientist. Kimmerer had the courage I did not, and pursued a doctorate in ethno-botany. She considers her training as a scientist as one of many tools that she can use in understanding the living world.

When I was a girl, I never felt "American," and to me the american flag was just a piece of cloth. The first time I saw the flag with the leaf of the Red Maple on the white background, I got so excited - this was a flag I could relate to, even rally around. I thought, though I didn't have the words for it, that it was the flag of what Kimmerer names as the Maple Nation. (I was disappointed when I found out it was a flag of a human government, though also interested that Canada would choose that living symbol.) And this brings me to the most important thing about this book. Kimmerer brings the reader into a Native understanding of the world, that there are in fact, Nations that are not human, that all beings are persons.

Let me say that again. All beings are persons. It is the root of our relatedness to the world, our seeing ourselves as not separate, but part of a web of relations that includes the green world, the animal world, the world of streams and lakes and ocean, of clouds and rain, sunlight and starlight, and that our relationship to each of them is, or should be, an intimate, person-to-person relationship.

This does not come from a romantic, but rather from a very pragmatic Native view. She takes us through the woods with a class, where she is not the all-knowing teacher, but rather the intermediary for the real teacher, the woods, the marsh, the earth.

She shows us how indigenous systems work in a sustainable way, and what an Honorable Harvest means. She approaches wild leeks and asks permission to take some for the dinner she wants to cook for her daughters. That is, she acknowledges their personhood, and that it is a gift they are giving in being our food.

But how do you ask permission? What does that mean? And how do listen for the answer? How do you listen to the Grand Banks when you ask permission to fish? Kimmerer says you use both sides of your brain. First, analytically, you pay attention. Is the population healthy? Is it thriving? Are there enough to share with us?

She digs a small clump of leeks and notices that they are weak, the bulbs poorly developed. So, even though she wants to make her visiting daughters this meal that would remind them of childhood meals they made together in spring, she puts them back, tucks them back into the earth, and leaves.
She doesn't do what many of us would do, that is, take them anyway and complain about how the leeks are bad this year. She accepts that the leeks are not thriving, puts them back, leaves with thanks, and the gift of replanting and care-giving.

As for the right brain, Kimmerer says you must listen with your heart, with your spirit. Is there a sense of generosity, or a kind of holding back or reticence? This kind of listening is valued as much as the analyticain the Native world. Though it is harder to talk about, it is no less real.

One of the most interesting, and important things Kimmerer has to say is about becoming indigenous. There are so many wannabe Indians out there, as well as people who really do want to have a better relationship with the land, but don't know how.

Kimmerer say, no, you can't become indigenous. You are immigrants, not from this place. Your people have not lived for thousands of years on this land.

But, she says, you can become naturalized. What does that mean? She uses the example of Plantain, an English plant that came over with the colonists, and soon was found all over the northeast. It is a useful plant that willingly shares its medicine. And it blends into the land, does not crowd out indigenous species, unlike Kudzu and other plants that destroy the ecosystems they invade. So, my new bumper sticker would read: Be Plantain, Not Kudzu.

This is such a creative response and challenge to the wannabes. Don't dress up in feathers and go to pow wows and invent indian-princess-great-grandmothers. Naturalize. Learn how to be a person among persons. Learn to listen, really listen, which means learning about the Maple Nation and all the other Nations, not romanticizing them as "Mother Earth" without doing the work of becoming intimate with the land you are, after all, a part of.

There is so much more in this book, I cannot praise it enough. Kimmerer thought she had to choose between science and poetry, but in Braiding Sweetgrass, she shows us that she is both a scientist and a writer with a poet's visiion, and a keeper of Traditional Knowledge.

There is hope for a sustainable earth on the other side of climate change and the fall of industrial civilization. It is possible to replant a forest, to reinvigorate a coastal ecosystem.

Our stories say that in earliest times, all the beings could talk to each other. Kimmerer says, if we listen hard enough, we can still hear enough to be good relations.

I say, with the greatest respect, Wlwni, Robin Kimmerer. Thank you.

Profile Image for David Martínez.
29 reviews6 followers
February 21, 2022
I read this book with a roomful of Indigenous students, most of them women, and we all had problems with how Kimmerer represents Indigenous oral tradition, ceremonial knowledge, and the Indigenous experience in contemporary American society. If not for the fact that she’s an enrolled citizen of the Citizen Band Potawatomi of Oklahoma, I probably would have said that Kimmerer writes like an ethnic fraud. Based on the anecdotes she shares about her background, she definitely comes across as not growing up Indian, as much of what she recounts signifies an abundance of white privilege.

Speaking for myself—not for my students, who were quite eloquent in their numerous criticisms of this book and can speak for themselves—I found the first two parts of this five-part book to be insufferable. Aside from the romanticized language that Kimmerer employs to describe every aspect of her life experiences, plant knowledge, and Indigenous culture, she constantly refers to herself as a good mother. In fact, once she identifies as Potawatomi, she practically calls herself Skywoman, in what I can only call an auto-hagiography. Kimmerer’s connection to Skywoman, by the way, is through the Haudenosaunee, most importantly the Onondaga, in whose ancestral lands she lives and works in Upstate New York.

Speaking of Kimmerer’s Indigenous identity, while I am the first to acknowledge that we all suffer the lasting effects of colonization differently, I am not sure that Kimmerer is as honest with her reader as she should be. She’s Citizen Band Potawatomi, yet the references to her nation are fleeting (p 36, 52). She never appears to spend any time there, let alone mention her family. Is there anyone in Oklahoma who claims her as a blood relative? There must be, but she never says who they are anywhere in her book. Instead, Kimmerer tends to conflate her references to Potawatomi—mostly she refers more broadly to the Algonquin tradition, sometimes Ojibwe—with her life in Upstate New York. Curiously, Kimmerer does not seem to know that her ancestors were once Eastern Woodlands people, which is why her father knew the Algonquin name for Mt Marcy, near her childhood home in Lake Placid. In fact, Kimmerer recounts her father’s ritual for greeting the sunrise, during family camping and canoeing trips, using the name Tahawus (p 34). Interestingly, regarding that ritual, Kimmerer says that her father made it up in one part of the book (p 37), yet in another part alludes to it as the Potawatomi “sunrise ceremony” (p 106). Which is it?

What is conspicuously absent from Kimmerer’s book is any meaningful references to the Indigenous experience in this country. Kimmerer has never known poverty, racism, or intergenerational trauma. Consequently, when she preaches against the evils of consumer culture, trying to convince her suburban middle-class, college-educated, predominantly white readers to curtail their compulsive consumption of luxury goods, she seems oblivious to how little financial or material wealth Indians possess in the first place. While discussing this with my students, I said that if I told my Akimel O’odham mother what Robin Wall Kimmerer said about buying too much, she would have said, “Maybe that lady should tell all those white people to stop buying so much. It’s their trash that’s everywhere.” Speaking of race, when Kimmerer recounts the story about Hazel in the Witch Hazel chapter, I noticed that Hazel is never referred to as a white woman. Once again, speaking with my students, I pointed out that if someone from my tribe lived next door to Hazel, she would have described Hazel as “that white woman from next door.” And don’t get me started on Kimmerer’s references to Skywoman and Nanabozho as “immigrants,” or her uncomfortable references to the Ojibwe stories about a cannibal monster. In fact, I have a long list of other examples.

In the end, if Kimmerer thinks that her book is in any way going to help white Americans become Indigenous, which is the implication of the chapters in part four, Braiding Sweetgrass, she’s fooling herself, not to mention her readers. At most, this book will encourage people to go out and play at being Indian. Kimmerer claims that that’s not what she’s going for (p 341-347), yet what else does she expect her white readers to do when they live in a world bereft of Indians, let alone anyone who can teach them? After all, according to most Indigenous oral traditions, if you are a part, meaning a relative, of any Indigenous community, then you know that your people’s teachings are meant only for you and your tribe. You shouldn’t put them in a book for the open market, even if it means fortune and celebrity. Kimmerer has become quite famous. Yet, I couldn’t say how her work has benefitted any of us. I know that she’s a part of the Maple Nation Indigenous women’s collective of Upstate New York. I’ve heard that she’s done some food sovereignty work in Michigan, where, in her book, Kimmerer talks about John Pigeon and basket-making. Yet, based on how she writes, she acts more like an ally than an Indigenous person. So, maybe her book can help other people become better allies to Indigenous peoples. Who knows.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,386 followers
February 6, 2021
“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer presents a perhaps radical view to those of us living so single-mindedly in the modern world. We've become so disconnected from our roots—both literal and metaphorical—that it is easy to turn a blind eye to how our every action has an effect on our environment. In this book, she calls us to pay attention, to use the currency of our time and energy to give back to the earth from which we came and which we call home.

In quite a unique and compelling way, Kimmerer weaves together three distinct, and sometimes seemingly opposed, worldviews: that of indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teaching of plants. She blends the mind, body and soul in a holistic perspective that celebrates the beauty of the natural world and warns against the continuing destruction humans are waging on it.

But her views are never preachy. Perhaps some readers may be turned off by the way she can anthropomorphize the environment, but her background as an indigenous woman and respect for her tradition brings a new light to how we—or at least I, as a white male—view the world. I found it refreshing, convicting and illuminating. I also appreciated how she is not only an indigenous woman but a scientist, someone who values the rigor of academic work but calls for a more nuanced approach that allows for respect for the land and listening to the earth. She does not accept the black and white nature of scientific reason as the only source of truth, instead calling on us to be hearers of what the world around as is saying while attempting to understand it with the tools we have at our disposal.

She has a strong voice (the audiobook is read by the author and very well done) and a story worth listening to. This book is a blend of scientific exploration, personal reflection, indigenous folklore, and a call to action. It was unlike anything I've ever read and something that will definitely stay with me.

While I was listening to it on my daily walks, it caused me to see the world in a new light, which is something I think all good books will do. It definitely makes me more aware of my impact on the earth and to consider what I give and take from my environment. The idea of reciprocity is paramount to the restoration of the world, and until humans learn to give as much as we take from it, we are doomed.

But Kimmerer, unlike many, is not pessimistic. She is a realist with a unique perspective that provides more than just dos and don'ts for 'fixing' our climate crisis. She offers a salve to the despair we feel when it comes to facing this issue through wisdom, science and tradition that must be carried forward by the next generation, as she carries her people's stories on through her work. It's an admirable book and one that will have a lasting impact on its readers.

Some quotes I liked:
-“Isn't this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world??
-"Ceremonies are the way we remember to remember."
-"Despair is paralysis...restoration is a powerful antidote to despair."
-"It is not the land that has been broken but our relationship to it."
-"Asking what is our responsibility is perhaps also to ask, What is our gift? And how shall we use it?"
-"As the perpetrators of the war zone on this road, are we not bound to heal the wounds that we inflict?"
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,075 followers
August 22, 2022
8/22/22 Update: I just learned that a Y.A. edition of this book is coming this November. It's on Netgalley right now.

Original Review
I feel as if I’ve been hearing about this book for more than a decade but that’s impossible because it was published by Milkweed Press in 2013. So maybe I just began hearing about Robin Kimmerer when I commissioned an article for the magazine I was working at in 2009: Tracy Basile’s “Saving Sacred Species”. A few weeks ago a friend began mentioning Braiding Sweetgrass on Facebook, then Tracy joined in and mentioned it again and I ended up visiting her—only our second in-person meeting in 23 years; how I originally met her when she, a complete stranger, rescued me at the desolate taxi-less train station of my childhood town on a dark night in 1999, well, it’s one of those stories with octopus legs into the future that is far too long to tell in a book review.

But all of these so-called coincidences only matter to illustrate that sometimes the universe shouts by mentioning something over and over, and I’m glad I listened and finally got around to reading this amazing book.

Braiding Sweetgrass blew my head apart, and along with that, decimated the carefully constructed guard walls around my heart. It happened when botanist/ecologist/professor/mother/Potawatami Native Kimmerer wrote an utterly sensible chapter about the notion that if I love the Earth, the Earth may love me back. Literally. Then she broke this down with science. Then as the truth of the statement hit, as my heart and head exploded, I had to put the book down and go for a walk; and walking about New York City in a state of buoyant gratitude was a whole new experience.

Kimmerer mentions how she proposes this notion of reciprocal love to her botany classes full of ardent ecologists who have been feeling, to their sensibilities, unrequited love for the planet. The very visceral idea that the thing, the being, they love so deeply actually truly loves them back explodes their (and my own) notions of existence.

Read this book! Buy this book—when your heart explodes, you’ll feel good knowing that you’ve reciprocated by sending Kimmerer a royalty. And you may want to mark it up; I bought it a few pages into a library copy because the impulse was overwhelming.

Rather than a linear story, each chapter is like an essay, and some blew me apart; others were more quiet and horrifying. They ranged from memoir-ish to straight ecology to the visceral history of consumerism and consequential disrespect for Earth and her resources, but what they had in common was a refrain of reciprocity with plant and element beings. I suspect each reader will find sections they want to mark and go back to in order to re-evoke something. For me it was the shattering of walls as love destroys all boundaries. When you feel that, you also feel hope and possibility. To paraphrase Kimmerer, when you love and know you are loved and valued in return, you are compelled to honor and protect your Earth lover.

Here’s one of the passages I marked:
Philosopher Joanna Macy writes of the oblivion we manufacture for ourselves to keep us from looking environmental problems straight in the eye. She quotes R. J. Clifton, a psychologist studying human response to catastrophe: “Suppression of our natural responses to disaster is part of the disease of our time. The refusal to acknowledge these responses causes a dangerous splitting. It divorces our mental calculations from our intuitive, emotional, and biological embeddedness in the matrix of life That split allows us passively to acquiesce in the preparations for our own demise.” (325-326)
And to end on a note of hope—because this really is a book of hope and potential restoration:
Respiration—the source of energy that lets us farm and dance and speak. The breath of plants gives life to animals and the breath of animals gives life to plants. My breath is your breath, your breath is mine. It’s the great poem of give and take, of reciprocity that animates the world. Isn’t that a story worth telling? Only when people understand the symbiotic relationships that sustain them can they become people of corn [light people who live with gratitude and humility], capable of gratitude and reciprocity. (344)
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,735 reviews2,336 followers
September 4, 2020
"Paying attention acknowledges that we have something to learn from intelligences other than our own. Listening, standing witness, creates an openness to the world in which boundaries between us can dissolve in a raindrop."

From 'Witness to Rain' [essay], BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2015 by Milkweed Editions.

This word is used frequently in Kimmerer's 32 essays, and it echoes in my heart and mind days after reading the collection. Giving back with care, nourishing and honoring the gifts that sustain.

Reciprocity as listening.
Reciprocity as walking lightly on the earth.
Reciprocity as protection from harm.
Reciprocity as social justice.
Reciprocity as honoring and supporting our elders.
Reciprocity as nurturing our children.
Reciprocity as economy.
Reciprocity as taking only what is given.
Reciprocity as ecology.
Reciprocity as revolution.

Synthesizing this immaculate collection is impossible. It is one to be experienced. It is one to marinate in/within.

This collection came to me in 2017, and over the years, I've read bits and pieces, listened to Kimmerer's beautiful narration on audiobook, and finally came back to read the whole book in entirety last month, only a few months after reading her first book, GATHERING MOSS in #ScienceSeptember.

Thank you to Vishy who read and discussed with me. We were both moved by Kimmerer's lyrical and wise prose, and will undoubtedly continue to be as these words are fresh in our minds.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
December 3, 2021
I really enjoyed this. A fairly gentle, love-based look at ecology and the climate crisis with lots of educational value. As an American, I don't think my countrypeople appreciate or understand enough about native culture, as a general rule and so I was very grateful for this sort of overview of modern day native life, as well as beautiful stories about the past. I also loved learning about the plants she mentions, and feel quite relieved to know that the proper pronunciation of pecan is peh-cahn, and not at all related to a way one might relieve themselves in the woods.

The end is much heavier than the beginning, but I did value the teachings, and have started to think of ways I can reciprocate the bounty I am gifted each year by our non-human neighbors.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
May 31, 2021
I'm so glad I finally read this book for the Book Cougars/Reading Envy joint readalong. If you only read one science or nature book this year, this comes with my highest recommendations. We will discuss it more soon on their podcast and in the meantime I'll try to gather my thoughts!

If anything I wish I could have read it more slowly....
Profile Image for Nick Crowley.
114 reviews3 followers
June 8, 2021
I believe there are five things almost every person has the ability to do, from birth, to combat climate change:

1. Do not own a car.
2. Do not have children.
3. Do not eat meat.
4. Buy only what you need.
5. Rigorously vet the ethics of companies you must buy from.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of a book all about reestablishing our connection with nature, clearly accomplishes only one of these, as far as I can tell (independent research suggests she is vegan). This is not a problem unique to Kimmerer as an environmentalist--we are all hypocrites, in the paradigm of climate change. But I found myself particularly bothered in this case, because there is an attitude pervading this book that the degradation of nature is their fault. Whose fault? The West's. But not Kimmerer's. She may not say it explicitly, but the attitude of the book is that she is a messenger of ancient Truth to the hyper-technologized masses about how to live in harmony with the earth.

I find this incredibly off-putting, coming from someone who leads a life that is far from environmentally sustainable. Here is someone who drives a car, presumably a lot, because she lives in a rural area, complaining about oil companies, chemical runoff, and road kill, preaching that we should realign our lifestyle with that of the indigenous Americans who gave and took with respect for the world around them. But many of her demonstrations of respect are entirely symbolic, with no substance. For example, harvesting wild crops and then placing tobacco leaves on the soil as a show of thanks. This does nothing other than make her feel better about herself (and in fact, is probably worse than nothing, since the tobacco farming required to make this offering is so harmful to soil health). She also glorifies wood as a "renewable" fuel source, ignoring the fact that wood produces carbon emissions worse than coal, and is terrible for ambient air quality.

There is a lot of talk of ritual in this book. As I read the rituals she described, I recalled a chapter from a book I recently read, The Forest Unseen, in which the author discusses the problem of finding a golf ball in a piece of a forest he's observing. At the beginning of the year, he decides he will not touch the plot of land for a whole year--only observe it. But when he encounters a golf ball there, hit from a nearby course, he wonders if he should remove it. Ultimately, he decides that removing it will not improve the health of the environment. It will merely create the illusion of cleanliness, granting him undeserved pride in his "good deed", when in fact the true culprits of destruction: soil pollution and acid rain, go completely unaddressed. At the end of the day, gifting the earth with tobacco is like removing the golf ball.

Here is a representative passage that bears the attitude I'm talking about:

"I once knew and loved a man who lived most of his life in the city, but when he was dragged off to the ocean or the woods he seemed to enjoy it well enough--as long as he could find an internet connection. He had lived in a lot of places, so I asked him where he found his greatest sense of place. He didn't understand the expression. I explained that I wanted to know where he felt the most nurtured and supported. What is the place you understand best? That you know best and knows you in return?

He didn't take long to answer. 'My car,' he said. 'In my car. It provides me with everything I need, in just the way I like it. Seat position fully adjustable. Automatic mirrors. Two cup holders. I'm safe. And it always takes me where I want to go.' Years later, he tried to kill himself. In his car."

If you know me, you know that I despise cars. But I cannot appreciate this passage. In this section, she is caricaturizing someone who committed suicide to try to bolster an argument (an argument for which she does not provide very sound evidence). Meanwhile this person, if he existed, is no longer around to provide his perspective. She subsequently writes: "He never grew a relationship with the land, choosing instead the splendid isolation of technology. He was like one of those little withered seeds you find in the bottom of a seed packet, the one who never touched the earth."

This combative, almost mocking tone, which here elevates to a level that could be called insulting, permeates the book.

Ultimately, though, my biggest criticism of the book is its over-reliance on spirituality as a solution to very material problems. At the end of the day, these problems can only be solved through action. And even then, I do not believe that 7+ billion people can live sustainably on this planet, no matter how devoted to the earth each person may be.

With that said, I must admit that I'm walking a fine line in voicing this criticism. Because I do agree with her general point in this book: that our society has strayed far, far away from the relationship we should have with the natural world. Food comes from a grocery store, not the earth. Recreation is obtained using electronics (destructive mining), cars (more destructing mining, carbon emissions, roadkill, war, land misuse), airplanes (ibid), books (deforestation, chemical runoff) etc. We do a bad job appreciating exactly where we are, without toys and external entertainment. Changing this attitude should make it easier to be an anticonsumer, and thus stop living in a way that demands so much from the earth while returning so little.

I fully acknowledge that I am a hypocrite too. Like many environmentalists, I am pulled in two directions. In one direction lies the realm of my society. The world of roads and buildings, electricity, internet, running water, music, movies, book, and human relationships outside of my immediate neighborhood. The other direction is the realm of harmony with nature, the inhospitable realm of minimal impact, where I cannot visit Milwaukee unless I want to spend a week walking there; where I can't eat bananas because they're shipped from central America; where I might afford one or two pairs of clothing; where gas furnaces do not exist. I can't live in both of these worlds. But I believe it is my job to walk as close to this latter world as I can without destroying my relationship with the former world. This book is too light on pragmatic advice for this struggle and too heavy on spiritual poetics.

This book does have some really good chapters, though. Kimmerer writes about some pretty fascinating natural phenomena. For example: did you know pecan trees don't produce every year? In fact, not only that: all pecan trees produce irregularly--but at the same time. Somehow, all the pecan trees in a whole state will withhold seeds for years on end, until they all, one year, decide it's time. This has pretty interesting ecological repercussions. She also writes about Potawatomi culture and language, something about which I am sorely uneducated.

My favorite chapter was called "Sitting in a Circle," which details an excursion she had with her students, where they try to live off the land for a night. I learned that you can eat a bunch of different parts of a cattail, among it's other uses. I think this chapter best embodies the more peaceful, hopeful tone I anticipated from this book, leaving behind, for a while, the tone that I disliked elsewhere in her writing.
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