Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer
From the reviews and blurbs I read for this, I was expecting something that used scientific knowledge a little more than this. It is there, woven into how the author understands the world… but much of it is autobiography, a memoir of how the author came to understand the world through an amalgam of scientific knowledge and training (she is a botanist) and the teachings of indigenous people. She is Potawatomi herself, though those are not the only traditions she references.
I’m afraid that far from being a spirit-nourishing breath of fresh air, as others have found it, it ultimately struck me as very sentimental. She romanticises indigenous lives and teachings to a huge degree. It’s difficult, because of course much of what she says about the changes colonisation brought to the US is true, and I agree with her about the need to live more constructively with other beings on Earth — I don’t think there’s much I actually disagreed with at all! (I can think of one point: she wants to see ecosystems restored to exactly what they were, while I’m not sure that is always possible or desirable. The clock can’t simply be turned back.)
…And yet, still, I found the whole book very sentimental and a little, I guess, vicariously embarrassing? I’m sure the author would view that to some extent as my poverty of spirit, but on the one hand, I don’t find science so devoid of wonder and warmth as she says, and on the other, I don’t think I need to imbue inanimate objects with innate purpose and souls in order to treat the world with respect.
Admittedly, it also does not help that I don’t share her experiences. Britain has different flora and fauna, obviously, and it’s that which would be more likely to spark off that sentimentality in me; talk about wild blackberries on the side of Caerphilly mountain and I can summon up the right warmth, but I have no idea what sweetgrass even looks like beyond the very vaguest outline.
In the end, just… didn’t enjoy it. Had hoped for more science and less sentiment.