“As we work to heal the land, the land heals us.” - Joanna Macy
This is the fourth blog in our Take Time Tuesday series to #amplifymelinatedvoices in intersectional environmentalism. Learn more here.
Just like one perfectly ripe, fresh-picked strawberry leaves you hungering for more, I hope this post drives you searching for Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass if you haven’t yet had the pure pleasure of reading it.
Both ecologist and a woman of indigenous heritage, Robin understands and honors both the science and the sacred when it comes to the natural world and our part in it.
When it comes to intersectional environmentalism, she offers a much-needed perspective.
I'm not one for summarizing books, but here are a few reflections from some of my favorite chapters.
Photo: Strawberries from my yard, planted a few years years ago in part thanks to a symbolic fondness I developed for the fruit after reading Braiding Sweetgrass.
The Gift of Strawberries
Have you ever considered how different it would be to walk into a grocery store and have every item available for free? What would you put into your cart? More? Less?
In her chapter on wild strawberries, Robin uses a strawberries and a similar analogy to describe the difference between the “gift economy” of the Potowatomi, and the commodity economy we have adopted today.
Imagining such a world seems almost impossible, yet still, I find Robin’s words both difficult and comforting (emphasis added by me):
In material fact, Strawberries belong only to themselves. The exchange relationships we choose determine whether we share them as a common gift or sell them as a private commodity. A great deal rests on that choice.
She talks about how the concept of a market economy is, simply put, just a story we’ve been telling ourselves for the past several hundred years. It might be widespread, but it isn’t the only option.
One of these stories sustains the living systems on which we depend. One of these stories opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement at the richness and generosity of the world. One of these stories ask us to bestow our own gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world. We can choose.
I’m still a little baffled with what that choice looks like today, but I’m curious enough to keep asking.
The Sacred and the Superfund
What is our relationship to the land?
Having moved more times than fit on two hands in the last two decades, engaging this question feels extremely relevant.
As I reflect on my place in the world, the frustration I have for all the pollution, deforestation, injustice and greed so evident in our culture, Robin reminds me what I have the power to change:
“We are not in control [of Mother Nature]. What are are in control of is our relationship to the earth.”
That, I can wrap my mind around.
Would you like a piece of strawberry pie? How about a canoe trip?
It is easy to get frustrated and ansty for change when thinking about the crises facing our world today. Pandemic. Racial injustice. Environmental injustice.
Yet Robin offers encouragement:
When I was young, I thought the change might happen that fast. Now I am old and I know that transformation is slow. The commodity economy has been here on Turtle Island for four hundred years, eating up the white strawberries and everything else. But people have grown weary of the sour taste in their mouths. A great longing is upon us, to live again in the world made of gifts. I can scent it coming, like the fragrance of ripening strawberries rising on the breeze.
Join the Conversation
Have you read Braiding Sweetgrass or any of Robin’s other works?
Drop a note in the comments below.