“Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift” (p. 327). I came across Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist and popular science and nature writer, through references to her earlier work Gathering Moss. She is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Gathering Moss has been mentioned in literary reviews, in nature writing, in science writing, and on the thoughtful blog Brain Pickings (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/13/gathering-moss-robin-wall-kimmerer/). Anything so niche, which appeals across such broad spectrum of readers, intrigued me.
I still haven’t managed to read Gathering Moss, mainly as it’s hard to find in the UK, but I am completely bowled over by her latest work, Braiding Sweetgrass. Wall Kimmerer shares her vast knowledge and wisdom about plants and the natural world and introduces a completely new (and yet also ancient) way of thinking about nature. She draws on her many roles: as a Native American, a mother, an observer, a scientist and a joyful activist.
She provides a refreshing and vital alternative approach to thinking about human and non-human life. Language is key here: for her, and the indigenous cultures she describes, every living thing is a who, not a what.
Her writing about specific engagements with nature is as engrossing as her big picture analysis, and often the two meet. As she and other volunteers gather to help salamanders across a busy road, so they will not be killed by passing cars, the second Gulf War begins. “Somewhere another woman looks out her window, but the formation of dark shapes in her sky is not a skein of spring geese returning” (p.349).
There is nothing fluffy or foolish about her coherent and radical ecology. “… it seems to me we humans have gifts in addition to gratitude that we might offer in return. The philosophy of reciprocity is beautiful in the abstract, but the practical is harder” (p. 238). She is ready to engage with the practical questions of how we live now, as a planet, as a species, as nations and as individuals.