“What if you were a teacher but had no voice to speak your knowledge? What if you had no language at all and yet there was something you needed to say? Wouldn’t you dance it? Wouldn’t you act it out? Wouldn’t your every movement tell the story? In time you would be so eloquent that just to gaze upon you would reveal it all. And so it is with these silent green lives.”– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
In 2007, Yann Martel compiled a reading list for Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper . People on Twitter was discussing other books to add to the list to make it more diverse . Our PM isn’t that great with environmental issues or indigenous issues, so this is one book I would recommend this book to him if he’s not too busy meeting panda bears.
This is by far one of the most important books I’ve read this year. The author is a scientist but she is also a poet. Her writing is absolutely stunning and eloquent. Her love for the land, especially the land she grew up on, comes through very clearly in her writing.
There is acknowledgement that the previously ignored indigenous cultures and knowledge are absolutely essential. As much as I focus on indigenous research in my studies, this is the first time I have seen the focus being on science. This book was definitely a shout out to indigenous culture and knowledge, knowledge that is often ignored by academia, or seen as wishy-washy or not true science:
“My natural inclination was to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide. But science is rigorous in separating the observer from the observed, and the observed from the observer.”
The book clearly states the importance of the land, for so many reasons: sustenance, healing, etc. While reading this, I thought of how my mother had had asthma as a child but my grandfather, who was very familiar with traditional African medicine (which was of course seen as backwards by Western medicine) knew which plant medicine to give my mother. She doesn’t have asthma anymore. My grandfather also helped with my sister’s anaemia (by boiling guava leaves in water and giving her the liquid to drink – this helps to replenish iron levels). What sort of knowledge is dying out because people aren’t interested in the land anymore? My grandfather passed away and I wonder who has the knowledge of the herb that cured my mother’s asthma.
The author uses incidents from her personal life, as well as myths, to enrich her insight on nature, plants and the land. The book is relatively heavy on the science (biology) but I think basic high school biology knowledge is enough to understand most of the processes.
Also included in the book is the sad history of the Natives in North America, the death of language, the near-extermination of their culture and what it means to the world as a whole:
“In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us….It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be sold.”
After reading this, I feel compelled to observe nature more closely, plant vegetables, look at possible relationships between plants, tap maple trees for syrup, something! The most engaging science book I’ve ever read and one I’d recommend to anyone.