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).