publication date: 2013
This book made me want to change my life. Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote with such poetry and persuasion that I was often moved to her way of thinking and, sometimes, moved to tears.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer combined her PhD-level botany expertise with knowledge and attitudes of American Native Indians in order to write about plants and our failed relationship to the land. She often discussed pollution, global warming, and human exploitation of natural resources. She also included stories from her own life as someone with Potawatomi ancestry and as a mother.
Kimmerer’s writing was often very beautiful, even when she was discussing a weighty or controversial topic. For example, here is her description of a shopping mall that she was observing:
We have constructed an artifice, a Potemkin village of an ecosystem where we perpetuate the illusion that the things we consume have just fallen off the back of Santa’s sleigh, not been ripped from the Earth. The illusion enables us to imagine that the only choices we have are between brands.
The book’s logical presentation of beautifully written ideas often convinced me of Kimmerer’s points. For example, this passage, in which she linked together the American war in Iraq with the conservation work she did ferrying breeding salamanders from one side of a busy highway to another, helping the salamanders avoid getting run over by a vehicle:
The carnage on this dark country road and the broken bodies on the streets of Baghdad do seem connected. Salamanders, children, young farmers in uniform – they are not the enemy or the problem. We have not declared war on these innocents, and yet they die just as surely as if we had.
There were many times when I was convinced or moved by Kimmerer’s words. However, the book was flawed. It was dense and sometimes slow. Kimmerer’s writing was often repetitive, as though I was reading a collection of essays rather than a cohesive book. I also disagreed with some of her ideas, including an assumption she seemed to have that only those people who thought as she thought could behave in a moral or ethical way. Additionally, she sometimes romanticized what life as an American Indian was like.
Further, there’s the issue that she was largely preaching to the choir. I was often enlightened or persuaded by something Kimmerer said, but I also already agreed with many of her ideas. How would a more skeptical reader – someone who celebrates capitalism or doesn’t trust the science of climate change – react to Braiding Sweetgrass? I’m not sure, because I’m not that person and because her arguments made so much inherent sense to me. I can’t imagine anyone being harmed from reading this book, however, and there were many benefits to be gained: from being moved by the poetic language to wanting to joyously reconnect with the Earth that has given us so much.
5/6: seek this book out