Braiding Sweetgrass is a book making the rounds these days with good reason. Author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes poetically from her spirit and theoretically, as a scientist. She is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, giving her charts and grafts a balance with ancestral wisdom.
This New Year, I am looking for a respectful mixture of poetic spirituality based in scientific reasoning. Resolutions soon leave a sour taste of guilt as they fall aside before the end of January. I hear that vision boards are a “thing” this year, but the masses are just beginning to catch up with what my women’s group did over a decade ago. There aren’t pictures in magazines to cut and paste what represents what we treasure in our souls.
“With deep compassion and graceful prose, Robin Wall Kimmerer encourages readers to consider the ways that our lives and language weave through the natural world. A mesmerizing storyteller, she shares legends from her Potawatomi ancestors to illustrate the culture of gratitude in which we all should live.”
Braiding Sweetgrass, however, offers an ecological and spiritual view of eternity that my culture negates. Eternity, in my view, encompasses past, present, and future, perhaps simultaneously. From many indigenous cultures, the earth is called Mother, the skies are studied for seasonal changes, and all below are united in a web of life. Everything is an “essential” worker in this amazing ecosystem.
Kimmerer speaks of the harvesting of plants. There is the ritual of leaving the first plant, in case it is the last. When a patch of sweet grass is found, a gift of tobacco is given before pulling it up. A study revealed that the thinning process was relevant to the health of future plants, looking for the sun. Thus, a symbiotic relationship existed between human basket weavers and the plants they used.
I realize I can’t be sprinkling tobacco on the carrots in the vegetable section of the grocery store, but I can resolve to be more intentional with my food choices, the packaging it comes in, and the thorough use of the product that has given its life for my sustenance. Like the practice of a hunter asking permission before taking the prey, a moment of reflection followed by gratitude is worth my focus as I go through my day.
My parents took me into the woods early on and often. Mom identified flora along hikes and Dad picked out the tracks of fauna. They composted, gardened, harvesting both seeds and plants. They also planted the seed of ecology, creation care, and conservation into my brother and me. Braiding Sweetgrass takes me into the woods to sit among the roots of an ancient Grandma Tree. It reminds me to put my foot gently on the earth. I poured some real maple syrup on my pancakes this morning, remembering my dad among the maples in springtime, placing spigots, transferring buckets to the fire, and the hours of boiling before syrup came to the table. I’m reminded to taste the sweetness and thank the giver.
The past two years have been a bizarre braid (to use her word) with strands of pandemic, social unrest, climate change, political divisions, and death. She speaks of pledging allegiance to a flag. How absurd that sounds to me now. Better the pledge from the Northern Sun’s poster declaring: “I pledge allegiance to the Earth and all the life that it supports, one planet in our care, irreplaceable with sustenance and respect for all.”
Respect for all.
Yesterday, a young Colombian woman came to my house for a day in the snow. She sought to experience what this new culture offered and that included snowshoeing, making an angel, and photographing woodland snow scenes. Despite the temperature dipping to -31 degrees, we gathered the snowsuit, scarf, wool socks, snow boots, doubled the mittens inside the gloves, and found a balaclava to cover all but her sparkling eyes and nose. By noon, it was only -9 and we took off . . . only after sending a photo to her mom in Colombia. Ah, technology!
After a deep breath, she charged into the yard, laughing, arms outstretched, sinking to her knees in the deep drifts. “Take a video, take a video!” she called out in pure glee.
We strapped on the snowshoes and proceeded into the pine plantation, branches drooping under snow clumps. We saw where the rabbits left leaping indents, the winding deer trails, and mice tracks. Above, a crow cawed. In the prairie, stiff grasses shed seeds for the juncos feeding there. After circling the acreage, she collapsed onto a snow field, flapping her arms and legs making her first snow angel.
That is the way I wish to enter 2022 – arms spread wide, giggling, inhaling clean, crisp air, and seeing my daily surroundings as if for the first time. I’ll make a new friend, and give thanks. In a few months, if I need reminding to focus, be intentional, and walk gently on the planet, please give me a nudge.
Happy New Year. Tread lightly and be thankful for each step.