BRAIDING SWEETGRASS with ROBIN WALL KIMMERER
Into every book there is a portal, an opening that beckons. In Braiding Sweetgrass, every sentence is a portal, so finely crafted that we do not notice the frame of the door, only the entrancing light that invites us in. No wonder so many friends said to me in the last few years, “Page, you will love this book!” Thank you, Kathleen. Thank you, Julie. Thank you, Milkweed Editions, for sending the review copy. Thank you all.
What I do here matters, writes Robin Wall Kimmerer. Everybody lives downstream.
This one line epitomizes a major theme weaving in and out of Robin’s fine book. Published by Milkweed Editions in 2013, Braiding Sweetgrass is more than memoir, more than nature writing, more than one woman’s narrative. What I do here matters. The words echo. Each story – as it loops back to the story before, simultaneously sends out tendrils, rooting itself to the next story.
We are reminded metaphorically and literally that what happens upstream sends ripples to all who live downstream. That is Robin’s point. We all live downstream. Cycles of responsibility to the earth and the repercussions of unwise action circle back. The sediments that clog lakes and suffocate fish will find their way to the city ponds and country creeks where all children are meant to play.
But Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is not a doomsayer. A scientist, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and recipient of the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing, Robin reminds us of nature’s resiliency at every bend in the river. Just when we think humans have broken the earth beyond repair, green blades of sweetgrass rise from denuded wastelands. The sweetgrass teaches Robin what we all need to understand.
She reminded me that it is not the land that has been broken, but our relationship to it.
Robin’s narrative voice is an intimate one, as is her relationship with all beings – with green plants, red berries, winged birds, great cedars, soft-bodied salamanders, slick-furred martens. Even stones that tumbled down mountains as glaciers melted eons ago. All beings.
The portals, the doorways that Robin swings open for us allow us to venture into a wounded world armed with hope. Braiding Sweetgrass opens our eyes by letting us see what has been there all along. Nature, in the hands of Robin, is both miraculous and ordinary. It is the sap of the sugar maples that sweetens our winter mornings. It is the cattail on which the red-winged blackbird perches. It is all that we should love, and all that we stand to lose.
“Weep! Weep! Calls a toad from the water’s edge. And I do,” Robin writes. “If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.”
This is the hope Robin offers. Love makes wholeness possible.We can begin to return to the Honorable Harvest. We can choose to remember the ancestors' path and begin to walk the Green Path.
WATCH the 2017 Grand Canyon Trust interview with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, "The Time of the Seventh Fire."