Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is one of the best books I have read, ever. Dr. Kimmerer’s writing and teachings had me hooked at the “Preface.” I learned about sweetgrass, which we burn along with sage for cleansing our home and other spaces and take for granted. I learned about this wonderful gift from Earth Mother and her other gifts that we take and use, sadly often more than we need, then fail to replace them to replenish Nature and ensure there is enough for everyone to share. Every section seamlessly weaves into the next and every chapter offers a lesson from Nature deftly interwoven with indigenous knowledge and the science of botany, which is fascinating. Dr. Kimmerer’s sharing of indigenous knowledge and her writing encourages reflection.
Per my usual, I tabbed chapters or pages that perhaps imparted even deeper lessons. The chapter on “Allegiance to Gratitude” reveals the Thanksgiving Address with which the kids of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy of the Onondaga Nation begin and end their school week. I am a Veteran, career US Army Chief Warrant Officer and am loyal to our Republic; however, I believe that if all kids were to learn at least some portions of the Thanksgiving Address they would grow into humans who would take action to care for and nurture Earth Mother and tend to our beloved Republic and her citizens. I share below one such verse that the kids know by heart and recite in their native language.
Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass – Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2013), 107.
A theme that ran throughout Braiding Sweetgrass is that of asking Earth Mother for permission to take what we need and only what we need and what is given to us. I think of the abundance of waste humans create that includes food and other natural resources, and things we buy that we think we must have then toss aside later…parts of the unnecessary clutter that disturbs our spaces and our lives. This applies to the gifts of Nature and other commodities. The human race as a collective is and hoarding species and not a responsible steward of our planet and her resources. Dr. Kimmerer lists the guidelines of what may constitute an Honorable Harvest.
Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 183.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a wat that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.
Braiding Sweetgrass is so much more than the tidbits I shared here. Check it out for yourself. I am growing better from its reading. I look forward to reading Dr. Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss, which she wrote prior to this beautiful book. In the meantime, let us learn to value the cherishments that Nature is willing to share as long as we ask permission.