I’m all about nature writing, especially when the words are woven as beautifully as they are in this book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Okay, so the last part of that title sounds… well, boring. Trust me, it’s not. Elizabeth Gilbert calls the book, “A hymn of love to the world.”
Kimmerer is botanist and a Native American–a Citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. She’s a woman who knows how to listen long and see deep. And I can’t help but think of Romans 1 that tells us what can be known about God can clearly be seen in the things He has made. Of course, it requires us to slow down, to pay attention, to learn Creation’s lessons and how to better love this world we call our home in this life.
The publisher says: “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.” It’s currently the #1 best seller in ecology.
Braiding Sweetgrass is a book about relationships with and kindness toward all living things. And gratitude. This is the book the Tweetspeak Poetry community is reading on its Patreon site. I’m soaking it up.
First words from the chapter titled, “The Three Sisters”
It should be them who tell this story. Corn leaves rustle with a signature sound, a papery conversation with each other and the breeze. On a hot day in July–when the corn can grow six inches in a single day–there is a squeak of internodes expanding, stretching the stem toward the light. Leaves escape their sheaths with a drawn-out creak and sometimes, when all is still, you can hear the sudden pop of ruptured pith when water-filled cells become too large and turgid for the confines of the stem. These are the sounds of being, but they are not the voice.
The beans must make a caressing sound, a tiny hiss as a soft-haired leader twines around the scabrous stem of corn. Surfaces vibrate delicately against each other, tendrils pulse as they cinch around a stem, something only a nearby flea beetle could hear. But this is not the song of beans.
I’ve lain among ripening pumpkins and heard creaking as the parasol leaves rock back and forth, tethered by their tendrils, wind lifting their edges and easing them down again. A microphone in the hollow of a swelling pumpkin would reveal the pop of seeds expanding and the rush of water filling succulent orange flesh. These are sounds, but not the story. Plants tell their stories not by what they say, but by what they do.
Last words from the chapter titled, “Collateral Damage”
As the temperature drops, single voices–clear and hollow–replace the keening chorus: the ancient speech of frogs. One word becomes clear, as if spoken in English. “Hear! Hear! Hear! The world is more than your thoughtless commute. We, the collateral, are your wealth, your teachers, your security, your family. Your strange hunger for ease should not mean a death sentence for the rest of Creation.”
“Hear!” calls a peeper in the headlights.
“Hear!” calls a young man trapped in a tank far from home.
“Hear!” calls a mother whose home is now a burnt-out-ruin.
There must be an end to this.
By the time I get home it is late and I cannot sleep, so I walk up the hill to the pond behind my house. Here too the air is ringing with their calls. I want to light a sweetgrass smudge to wash away the sadness in a cloud of smoke. But the fog is too heavy and the matches just bleed a red streak on the box. As it should be. There should be no washing away tonight; better to wear the grief like a sodden coat.
“Weep! Weep!” calls a toad from the water’s edge. And I do. If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.
Has a plant (or animal) ever told you a story?