This article appears in the September issue of 400 Life Magazine.
We are fortunate to live in a region that affords us with a variety of outdoor experiences. If you are a camping and hiking kind of person, Georgia has parks, campgrounds, and trails to keep you outdoors. If, like me, your ideal outdoor experience is oceanfront, you can be on a beach within a half a day. As Georgians, we are not the first to understand and appreciate the splendor of the natural world around us. Indigenous people from the tribal nations of the Cherokee and the Creek lived on this land long before Europeans arrived. It is easy to take the land around us for granted, but it is important that we slow down and take time to reconnect.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a perfect guide to remind us of the Indigenous practices of appreciation and gratitude toward the land. Dr. Kimmerer is a professor of Environmental Biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her research mixes the scientific with the spiritual in order to examine the natural world through different lenses.
Her latest book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, is part memoir, part nature journal, and part Native history. To say that this book is outside of my usual reading selections would be an understatement. However, the title kept showing up through podcasts and book reviews that I value. I took a chance and I was immediately glad that I did.
The focus of the book is the value of sweetgrass to the Potawatomi people, both as a plant and as a symbol for connection and relationships. Dr. Kimmerer created five sections within the book, all based around sweetgrass: Planting sweetgrass, tending sweetgrass, picking sweetgrass, braiding sweetgrass, and burning sweetgrass. Within each section she includes chapters full of information about the scientific names of plants, her interactions with plants, and Indigenous uses of plants. After each chapter I found myself stopping friends to tell them something new that I learned about pecans, or maple trees, or sweetgrass.
There are takeaways from every chapter of this book, but Kimmerer makes her main message clear from the start, it is the responsibility of humankind to show gratitude and respect toward the natural world that provides for us. She explains, “One half of the truth is that the earth endows us with great gifts … the other half belongs to us through our work and our gratitude.”
A similar term could be sustainability, the concept that it is the responsibility of the current generation to leave the world in better shape than they found it for the benefit of future generations. Dr. Kimmerer also reminds readers to stop and observe the world, rather than just running from point A to point B. She shares that the term ecology comes from the Greek word oikos, the word for home. It is important to see the natural world as our home.
The next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, go outside and take a few moments to appreciate the world around you. There are trees, plants, and animals we live with, that we never notice. Follow Dr. Kimmerer’s advice and view the world around you through more than one lens.
Becky Cahill is a career educator and avid reader. You can follow her on Instagram at beckycahill25.