Remembering things you didn’t know you had forgotten is the magic that comes from smelling braided sweetgrass.
On a recent trip to the Methow Valley, I stopped by the Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop. It was a weekday morning, so I took advantage of the quiet to ask the bookseller what her top-selling title was. I expected to hear that it was Michelle Obama’s new memoir or the latest spy thriller. But the accommodating retailer led me to the section of recommended books and pulled down Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
This luminous and enchanting book was first published in 2013 and is enjoying a much-deserved renaissance, fueled in most part by word of mouth. Kimmerer is a botanist by training, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a mother, and a wordsmith who can capture the gifts and intricacies of the natural world in prose that will inspire you to reread sentences aloud for the pleasure of contemplating their ideas and language a second-time through.
Kimmerer weaves myth, history, science, and gratitude into a basket that overflows with beauty and insight. Through her poetic lens, whose frame includes stories of real people as well as legends of her ancestors, you will see the minute workings of ecosystems and be filled with wonder. Critics gush over this book which, in the hope of the author, “can be medicine for our broken relationship with earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.”
As Leschi bursts into blossom and the leaves return to grace the trees, this is the book to take to the park and savor while you inhale the scents of fresh green.
And then, accept Kimmerer’s challenge to pay attention to the scene around you and think of ways you can pass that on:
[The] kind of deep attention that we pay as children is something that I cherish, that I think we all can cherish and reclaim—because attention is the doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity. And it worries me greatly that today’s children can recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than 10 plants. That means they’re not paying attention.
Braiding Sweetgrass is available at independent bookstores and the author reads the audio edition which is available on Seattle Public Library’s Libby app.