Books: Braiding Sweetgrass and Grow

Take a peek at two books from my to-review stack that offer hope for the community of this earth–including we humans:

Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair. … Hold the bundle up to your nose. Find the fragrance of honeyed vanilla over the scent of river water and black earth and you understand its scientific name: Hierochloe odorata, meaning the fragrant, holy grass. In our language it is called wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth. Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you had forgotten.

Robin Wall Kimmerer opens Braiding Sweetgrass with this loving invitation to hear her stories and the wisdom she has learned from studying and teaching botany, from being a mother and from her Anishinabekwe people. Her stories weave a course in humanity we badly need right now. 

The theme throughout is reciprocity: The earth gives us so much—food, shelter, materials on which we have grown our culture and technology, whether the rare minerals required for the chips in our devices or the oil we consume. What then, she asks, do we give the earth in return? 

Each story offers a different answer to that question, beginning with this passage at the end of the Skywoman story in the first chapter, 

For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.

Which they do. 

The books I love most, the ones I read again and again, are the books that make me think, make me nod my head in recognition of something learned new or anew, make me laugh out loud or cry; that make dream. They’re books that enlarge the way I see the world, and inspire me to grow as a person. 

Braiding Sweetgrass is one of those books. Wall Kimmerer’s words give me hope for our future on this extraordinary blue planet—our home, battered as it may be. They make me believe that we humans can indeed learn to live here as if we all belong.

Read the full review at Story Circle Book Reviews.

When Stephen Grace climbs aboard Big Bertha, a repurposed garbage truck cruising the alleys of Denver to collect food waste for composting, he is a depressed guy in search of something to make sense of life after the death of a close friend. Working as “wingman” for a fledgling business of repurposing food waste as compost seems as good as any other job, Grace writes in his book Grow: Stories of the Urban Food Movement

I also wanted to figure out why my friends who’d purchased Big Bertha were determined to be part of a revolution that would change the way we eat, and perhaps more important, change the way we live. This made no sense to me, but after my friend Mostafa died, nothing else seemed to make any sense either. I decided to go along for the ride.

Mostafa is the “large-bellied” and “large-hearted” Iranian engineer who on hikes into the mountains above Boulder introduced Grace to food as sustenance for the soul. On their first camping trip together, Grace recalls, Mostafa produced a porcelain teapot and proceeded to prepare traditional Persian cardamom and saffron tea, after which came a feast,

shish kebabs with skewered cubes of steak flavored with Persian spices, chunks of pepper branded with char marks from the grill, sweet corn roasted over red coals, wedges of cantaloupe for dessert. 

After Moustafa died of a heart attack while climbing Quandry Peak, Grace went into a tailspin. The wingman job with Waste Farmers gave him a paycheck, a reason to get out of bed everyday, and perhaps more importantly, to be curious about the world again.

Inspired by Big Bertha and the mountains of stinking food she collects—“Forty percent of food in the United States is thrown away and ends up rotting in landfills.”—Grace begins to search out pioneers in Denver’s urban agriculture movement, driven to understand their passion for food and life. 

By the end of this fascinating and compelling journey through a movement determined to redeem blighted city land and lives, Grace has found a measure of redemption in his own life. Read Grow, and you’ll find yourself inspired too.

The full review will appear in the Winter issue of Rocky Mountain Gardening