Braiding Sweetgrass: a Review

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I don’t usually do reviews. I leave that to my friend @Sars_Reads. Check out her website here. But, this book…this book is amazing and everyone needs to read it. Which prompted me to put out a review so everyone could get excited to read it.

It connected me to nature in a way I hadn’t ever really thought about. While I absolutely love nature, love everything eco-friendly and understand that we should have respect for the planet, for all of the flora and fauna and animals that surround us, I haven’t really been conneceting with Mother Nature. Humans have been traipsing this Earth, doing whatever we damn well please without a care for a consequence for far too long. Reducing our plastic, reducing our waste, eating more locally grown foods is a great step in the right direction of getting back in touch with nature. But, it’s not just about ‘going green’.

Originally, I wanted this book because I’ve been getting big into learning more about the world that surrounds us. My Christmas list for 2019 included a book on mushrooms and wild edibles. I happily read them and added a book on medicinal plants of Canada later on. I’ve been too nervous to actually use any of them, but the knowledge is slowly coming together. Now, whenever I walk out into a forest I recognize more plants, know which ones can be eaten, which ones are medicinal, even if I dare not use any. There’s something so primitive and free feeling knowing that you can eat a plant that grows in front of you…it’s also incredibly stressful in case you eat the wrong thing.

We’ve been removed from Mother Earth for too long. Concrete cities with bright, shining lights, and perfectly manicured lawns ruin any chance of us connecting with nature. No wonder it’s taking us so long to understsand how important the natural world is. Farm fields stretch out into the horizon on the prairies, making for absolutely breathtaking sunsets, but showing little in the way that the world used to be. While I’m not opposed to farming (how are we all going to eat), I’m opposed to the thought process behind some farmers. I watch in horror as the farmers mow down the land surrounding their fields so as not to attract any weeds, to not look ‘messy’. They mow down prairie roses, goldenrod, white sage, prairie grasses, and cattails. The beauty of an unkempt ditch is far more appealing to me than one that has been mowed down to sticks, barely alive.

Kimmerer speaks of this same reaction when her neighbouring farmers decide to mow down lovely fields, cut down trees. I was delighted to find wild asparagus growing in my yard, bordering the farmer’s field. Primrose grew right along with it, shining bright in the sunshine. There could be tons of these plants surrounding my yard, except they’re barely surviving, barely holding on. The edge of my yard is tinged brown from pesticide use, hardy trees living through harsh chemicals year after year. But, what about the rest of the plants? The ones that could feed many, including insects and animals?

Broken up into reasonably short essays, this book is easy to pick up and put down whenever the mood strikes. I devoured half of it during a week at the cabin, excited to learn about plants and how freakin’ beneficial everything in the world is to us. It took me a little longer than I expected to finish the book, especially since I was reading so happily at the lake, staring out at the vast amount of trees and water as I read an inspiring passage. It can get a little dry in some areas, and perhaps a bit repetitive, as lots of nonfiction work does. Still, I was excited to keep reading because I kept nodding along to pretty much everything she said.

I found myself crying a lot during this book. For what the world could be, for what it never will be. For the pain that humanity has caused everyone, including humanity, itself. For how stupid we have all been. For how connected we are. For how totally true her words are.

It’s an uplifting and inspiring book that makes me want to do better for the world, for humanity, for animals, for everyone. She speaks as if trees are people, and why aren’t they? Why don’t we give names and pronouns to trees and moss and moose? I’ve always said ‘someone ate my cucumbers/tomatoes/strawberries’ meaning a coyote or skunk or bird. Rarely will I call animals ‘it’, but rather he/she or they. I’ve talked to trees and plants, welcoming my new seedlings into the world, telling them what to expect. Why don’t we use these words and give life back to the natural world? Give the world that carries us, that takes care of us, and has been for years, the respect that she deserves?

The book may have taught me a few things like how to spot sweetgrass and why salamanders traipse across roadways in the early spring, but the most important lesson was to respect nature. To really dive in and realize that we have all that we need, right outside. We just need to open our eyes.

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