The Arboretum’s Dragonfly Lady* Introduces Robin Kimmerer, The Moss Lady**

By Anne Donnelly

I’m thrilled and hon­ored that Robin Kim­mer­er is speak­ing at the Arbore­tum this August! When I read her remark­able book, Braid­ing Sweet­grass: Indige­nous Wis­dom, Sci­en­tif­ic Knowl­edge, and the Wis­dom of Plants,” I felt an imme­di­ate kin­ship. Her book is the one I wish I could have writ­ten! It is hon­est, elo­quent, knowl­edge­able, com­pelling, thought-pro­vok­ing, and entranc­ing. It weaves his­to­ry and Native Amer­i­can folk­tales and cul­ture with sto­ries with sci­ence and phi­los­o­phy. I loved it and shared it wide­ly — and have giv­en more than sev­er­al copies as gifts.

Like Pro­fes­sor Kim­mer­er, I too am a moth­er, a teacher, a farmer – well, at least a gar­den­er — a nat­u­ral­ist, and a pas­sion­ate and respect­ful appre­ci­a­tor of the earth and our fel­low trav­el­ers on the plan­et. We were both born in the beau­ti­ful Adiron­dack Moun­tains, and we were both award­ed the SUNY Chancellor’s Excel­lence in Teach­ing Award. I have lived the prin­ci­ples of stew­ard­ship and bio­di­ver­si­ty long before the words came into vogue, and I fer­vent­ly hope I have passed some of these val­ues on to the many stu­dents I have touched as I am cer­tain she has.

Sweet­grass is a theme that runs through the book. I had a beloved bas­ket woven of sweet­grass and a swag of it that hung in my room until a house fire destroyed them. I have searched, but I have nev­er been able to find sweet­grass grow­ing wild. As an uncon­struct­ed gar­den­er,” I have asters and gold­en­rods grow­ing side-by-side in my gar­den, as they do on the road­sides. I strive for the wild and won­der­ful look rather than order and dis­ci­pline. I’m sure Pro­fes­sor Kim­mer­er would approve.

I under­stood her occa­sion­al impa­tience with, but also her deep respect for, hard sci­ence.” Some­times data col­lec­tion and exper­i­men­tal pro­to­cols are dis­mis­sive of the wis­dom borne of long expe­ri­ence if that wis­dom is not testable and quan­tifi­able – at least not on the sur­face. I mar­veled at her abil­i­ty to func­tion so com­fort­ably in both worlds and nur­ture her stu­dents while sup­port­ing sol­id research.

In my long expe­ri­ence in the class­room, I found that stu­dents regard plants in a spec­trum that starts with sal­ad that isn’t dead yet” to REAL­LY, REAL­LY slow beings that respond to love, touch, and song.” But I’ve also found that the deep­er you delve, the deep­er the fas­ci­na­tion with plants becomes and you begin to under­stand plants as organ­isms exquis­ite­ly attuned to their envi­ron­ment and, sur­pris­ing­ly, each oth­er: they com­mu­ni­cate among them­selves, warn their neigh­bors when preda­tors strike, and , in our cli­mate, trees even change their plumb­ing in response to the seasons!

I was touched by the chap­ter Robin’s daugh­ter wrote about child­hood mem­o­ries of their neigh­bor Hazel — how her per­cep­tion of this rela­tion­ship with an old lady taught her valu­able lessons she did­n’t real­ize until her own matu­ri­ty — beau­ti­ful­ly woven with the sub­tle won­der and beau­ty of witch hazel — a favorite plant of mine.

Like so many oth­ers, I keen­ly antic­i­pate Pro­fes­sor Kimmerer’s shar­ing – her indige­nous wis­dom, her sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge, and her insight into the teach­ings of plants. Plan on attend­ing her talk at the Arbore­tum on August 19. In the mean­time, drop in on one of her TED TALKS for a preview!

* Anne Don­nel­ly leads the Arboretum’s very pop­u­lar Drag­on­flies and Dam­selflies” work­shop.

** Robin Kimmerer’s first book was Gath­er­ing Moss: A Nat­ur­al and Cul­tur­al His­to­ry of Moss­es” (2003).


Summer 2017

Volume 35 , Number 3

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