Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer
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Hypothetical and asked, “What do you suppose would happen if people believed this crazy notion that the earth loved them back?” The floodgates opened. They all wanted to talk at once. We were suddenly off the deep end, heading for world peace and perfect harmony. One student summed it up: “You wouldn’t harm what gives you love.” Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling.
The place that you understand best? That you know best and knows you in return? He didn’t take long to answer. “My car,” he said. “In my car. It provides me with everything I need, in just the way I like it. My favorite music. Seat position fully adjustable. Automatic mirrors. Two cup holders. I’m safe. And it always takes me where I want to go.” Years later, he tried to kill himself. In his car. He never grew a relationship with the land, choosing instead the splendid isolation of technology.
Knew him and he did not know them. I too was a stranger at first in this dark dripping forest perched at the edge of the sea, but I sought out an elder, my Sitka Spruce grandmother with a lap wide enough for many grandchildren. I introduced myself, told her my name and why I had come. I offered her tobacco from my pouch and asked if I might visit in her community for a time. She asked me to sit down, and there was a place right between her roots. Her canopy towers above the forest and her swaying.
Have no answer, but I was humbled by their creativity. The gifts they might return to cattails are as diverse as those the cattails gave them. This is our work, to discover what we can give. Isn’t this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world? As I listen to them, I hear another whisper from the swaying stand of cattails, from spruce boughs in the wind, a reminder that caring is not abstract. The circle of ecological compassion we.
In the river—Chinook, Chum, Pink and Coho—ensured that the people would not go hungry, likewise the forests. Swimming many miles inland, they brought a much-needed resource for the trees: nitrogen. The spent carcasses of spawned-out salmon, dragged into the woods by bears and eagles and people, fertilized the trees as well as Skunk Cabbage. Using stable isotope analysis, scientists traced the source of nitrogen in the wood of ancient forests all the way back to the ocean. Salmon fed everyone.