Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Lessons from Braiding Sweetgrass

a mother earth face pot with a braided grass headband

Hello, fellow lovers of all things green,

I’ve been listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer, the author of  Braiding Sweetgrass, read her extraordinary book. Her voice brings her lyrical, expressive words to life as beautifully as they are written – singing like the songs of nature.

Dr. Kimmerer is an Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York. She combines her heritage as a Potawatomi with her passion for science and the environment. Hence, the subtitle of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

Sweetgrass, Hierochloe (meaning “holy grass”) odorata (meaning “fragrant”), is native to North America. It is part of Native American rituals and healing. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass is a metaphor for respecting and being grateful for our Earth and the interconnection of all living things.

A book, Braiding Sweetgrass, with a pale yellow over and braded sweetgrass next to a plate of pinecones. Lessons from Braiding Sweetgrass

The part I tuned into recently was about restoring our dear Earth— The chapter title: The Sacred and the Superfund. Superfund is the name given to the environmental program to restore hazardous waste sites. Perhaps the chapter particularly piqued my interest because of the setting of Syracuse, NY, where I was born.

Kimmerer expresses how the environmental movements focus on messages of fear and desperation, leading to hopelessness rather than inspiring restoration and healing of our natural world. Its true history has shown desperate times. But, like struggles in our personal lives, we can learn and grow from them. And with that comes healing, strength, and endurance.

As Kimmerer so elegantly writes, “It’s not enough to grieve. It’s not enough to just stop doing bad things. We have enjoyed the feast of generosity laid out for us by Mother Earth, but now our plates are empty, and the dining room is a mess.”

While people don’t like to do dishes, it’s the best place to be after a party with all the laughter and conversation.

“Doing dishes, like doing restoration, forms relationships.”
a mother earth face pot with a braided grass headband and a hat of evergreens and twigs.

My adored Mother Earth face pot adorned in her winter dress.

The goal of restoration is to mirror nature, understanding its power and ability to correct itself if we stop abusing it. If I may add, throwing new technologies to feed our frenzy that still negatively impacts our environment (while making big bucks for big business) is not the answer either. We are students of nature and our dear Earth rather than owners of it. Let us learn how to care for it by following the leads of the rhythms of nature.

But to many, it’s easier to give up in desperation rather than take responsibility and change things. The same is true for how some conduct their lives: being victims and blaming others rather than taking charge of their lives.

The territory of the Onondaga nation was from the northern part of Pennsylvania into Canada, encompassing the sacred shores of Onondaga Lake.

“It was a mosaic of rich woodlands, expansive cornfields, clear lakes, and rivers that sustained the native people for centuries,” writes Kimmerer. “When George Washington directed federal troops to exterminate the Onondaga during the Revolutionary War, a nation that had numbered in the tens of thousands was reduced to a few 100 people in a matter of one year. Afterward, every single treaty was broken. Illegal takings of land by the state of New York diminished the Aboriginal Onondaga territories to a reservation of only forty-three hundred acres.”

Let us pause in Kimmerer’s description and imagine those desperate times.

The area became contaminated due to manufacturers’ gross negligence. Swimming was banned in 1940, and in 1970, you could no longer fish because of mercury contamination, which is still a problem today.

Kimmerer describes how the Onondaga Nation struggled to reclaim their land and did so with such love for the land and their people. They felt they were partners with the land and not owners. We can learn from that.

We can return to being one with nature by respecting it.
a robin sitting on a nest below a white flower in a viburnum shrub.

Mrs. Robin is sitting vigil.

The world and our Earth can heal just as societies can heal if we look at each other as part of the whole and stop focusing on “differences” of race, religion, gender, or culture. Like the Robin and Sparrow families we spoke about last week, we seek the same things in life—to care for our families and to live in peace and comfort.

But there are histories, many horrific. And wounds that carry forward from generation to generation, perpetuating retaliation between groups and countries. Will it ever end?

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Since becoming a Superfund site, Onondaga Lake is on its way toward restoration. Despite the barren landscape caused by industrial waste, Sweetgrass began to grow again, signaling renewal and healing. There is hope.

Garden Dilemmas? and your favorite Podcast App.

Enjoy more to the story in the Garden Dilemma’s Podcast (a soothing 11 minutes):

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

More about my Mother Earth Face Pot in Overwintering Potted Perennials 


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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