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Robin Wall Kimmerer’s 'Braiding Sweetgrass' combines Indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge

Robin Wall Kimmerer is the author of "Braiding Sweetgrass"
Dale Kakkak
Robin Wall Kimmerer is the author of "Braiding Sweetgrass"

Here’s an excerpt from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, “Braiding Sweetgrass:”

“Remember that the earth is a gift that we must pass on just as it came to us. When we forget, the dances we’ll need will be for mourning – for the passing of polar bears, the silence of cranes, for the death of rivers and the memory of snow.”  

That’s one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of passages I marked as I read Kimmerer’s book of essays. The work was originally published in 2013 but became a word-of-mouth sensation in 2020, when many of us were reeling from pandemic shutdowns and craving a deeper relationship with nature. The author is both a professor of environmental biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and her book explains how plants and animals are our oldest teachers.

I savored the book over a couple of months, listening to the Libro.fm audio version, which is narrated by Kimmerer herself. Each chapter is both meditation and devotional, as the author implores us to acknowledge and celebrate our reciprocal relationship with the natural world.

It begins with the story of Skywoman, a tale shared through generations by the original peoples of the Great Lakes. Kimmerer explains how Skywoman floated to earth with a handful of seeds and flowers, spreading them on the muddy shell of a turtle and dancing in celebration until the whole earth was made. Other essays focus on oak trees, strawberries, mosses, and a monster called Windigo that offers a warning about the dangers of consumption.

This book is a perfect read during this season of change, which also happens to be Native American Heritage Month. Even better, Kimmerer just released a new edition aimed at young-adult readers. It features beautiful illustrations and questions that could prompt family discussions around the Thanksgiving table.

Both versions are like a tranquil walk through the forest. Read it, breathe deeply, and reconnect with nature.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.