“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Trained as a biologist I have spent many an hour peering at biological phenomena such as barnacles, seaweeds and juvenile salmonids. While hiking out to a field site at 3am in order to monitor sea creatures at low tide was an experience I treasure, I lost sight of the purpose and thus my motivation when expected to quantify things that aren’t truly quantifiable. Studying complex ecosystems challenged my western view of the world as discrete, objects that can be understood by their component parts. I spent a year and a chunk of change for a Masters in Holistic Science to begin decolonizing my training in western science, but author and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer takes us there in a beautiful 384 pages of her experience connecting “indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants.” Braiding Sweetgrass is a remarkable story that illustrates science in relationship to scientist, culture and subject. Her view of science through her life’s work as discovery, connection and story gives me hope that humans will join the world yet, not as  separate, objective viewers but as interconnected, awake participants. 

Excerpt (p. 6): “…One otherwise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were third-year students who had selected a career in environmental protection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was “none.” I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day – brownfield, factory farms, suburban sprawl – truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. how can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?…” – Robin Wall Kimmerer