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Book Review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This book was, in my opinion, the best book I read in 2022. It is also the first time I’ve been glad I did the audiobook as the author reads it herself.

cover of the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer - which is a braid of sweetgrass on a white background with text.

There is a lot we can learn from books like this. Now, I have always been enthralled with the history of North America – not just from the point when Europeans decided they “discovered” a place where people already lived. I have read biographies, autobiographies, historical nonfiction, many many tomes of indigenous North American mythology from many different tribes and nations. It is a special interest of mine and has been since I was a small child sitting in the circle at the free story hour at the local indigenous museum (I forget what it was called then) in Spokane, listening to the grandmothers tells us stories that felt more true, more real, than anything I would hear years later in Sunday school.

Back to the book though – there is a fair bit of plant information, but it isn’t really an herbalism or a gardening book. It leans right up against philosophy with threads of history through a lens that isn’t as common to find on mainstream bookshelves. It is written from the point of view of a scientist but also an animist, whether that word is ever used or not, it’s the best fit I have. It goes a long way to prove that you can, in fact, love both and be both. There is history that doesn’t get taught in schools. There is mythology that hasn’t yet made it to pop culture.

There is a bit of a journey, even if that journey isn’t exactly linear. There’s a lot that hit close to home for me – especially with my youngest child nearing his senior year in high school. There was some folklore, some deep language and linguistics discussion. All things that call loudly to me and to my word loving soul.

Animism is pretty commonplace in books in the pagan sphere but much less so in books written by scientists – this is a book that bridges that gap seamlessly. Being in right relationship with the land, the plants, the ancestors around you can make a world of difference – not just for you but for the plants and animals in your area too. Connected to the earth, we humans are less likely to do things that cause long term damage. It’s harder to ignore the harm coming to a person who’s name you know – same premise but with non-human persons.

Humanity is perilously close to an edge we might not be able to come back from. The Earth will eventually be fine, but humanity is very likely to bring about its own extinction. Not listening to the earth, to the plants, to the pollinators is detrimental to us all.

Really – an all-around fabulous book and a great read (or listen). Listening to Kimmerer read this work really took me back to my childhood, enthralled with her words, with her cadence, with how she weaves all these single strands – science, history, mythology, love, trust, knowledge, experience – into one very fine braid and presents it so that we can learn and continue the work of braiding.

Sidenote: I have no idea if the museum still does the same kind of story time as it did 40 years ago when I was a kid, but I hope it does. It remains one of my favorite childhood memories. I guess that’s one benefit of having a frugal father – we did all the free cultural events and I remember there being a LOT of them – story time, concerts in the park, certain times that the botanical gardens were free to walk through, a metal goat sculpture that sucked up trash. Spokane had a lot to offer way back when. It’s been about 30 years since I was there so I’m sure a ton of things have changed but it’s still the same for me.


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