What if everyone in Jackson County read the same book? Think of the conversations we could have, comparing notes on new ideas we encountered, sharing what we found challenging, what we loved and what we didn’t. It would be a giant book club, with room for all! That’s the idea behind Rogue Reads, an annual celebration of reading and community.
For the next few months, JCLS invites everyone to read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. We’ve stocked up on copies of the book in electronic, audio, and print formats and encourage everyone in our community to read the book and spend time this winter reflecting on its themes of reciprocity, gratitude, indigeneity, and reconciliation. We’ll have online discussions, Take & Make activity kits inspired by the book, and lots of other ways to connect with others who’ve picked it up.
Kimmerer is a botany professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Tribe who draws on both indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge in her work. Her writing uses traditional stories and practices to illustrate her points and propose ways in which those of us who live mainstream American lives can change the ways we relate to animals, plants, our community, and our shared history to deepen our connection to nature and each other. Braiding Sweetgrass is full of insight and engaging stories—too many to share here—so let me tell you about a few that struck a chord with me.
Early in the book, we read the story of Skywoman from Anishinaabe tradition. Skywoman falls from her home in the sky and is caught and held up, first by a flock of geese and then by Turtle, who offers his back to stand on because there is no dry land. The animals of the sea take turns bringing mud up from the bottom of the ocean, which Skywoman uses to make land where she can live, plant seeds, and make a home. The animals in the story are not servants, but peers who help Skywoman, and she, in turn, shares the knowledge of the plentiful food that can be grown with the seeds she brought when she fell. From Skywoman, we learn that the animals have always cared for us and we should take care of them in return. We learn to appreciate the bounty of the earth and share it.
This is key to a worldview that centers gratitude for the things we have rather than a focus on what we lack. With that gratitude comes a responsibility for our actions toward the people, animals, and plants with which we share our world. At a time of year in which it is so easy to lose sight of the good things we already have amid the noise and clutter of holiday advertising, the reminder to reflect on the bounty of having shelter, enough to eat, and connections to those we love could not be timelier. It makes me reflect on what I can do to give back to nature and my community.
Later in the book, Kimmerer introduced me to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, which greets each part of the natural world, listing the waters, the earth, plants, animals, birds, the sun, the moon, and onward, expressing gratitude for their gifts. For me, it serves as a strong reminder to slow down and notice those gifts, rather than taking things for granted. Making time each day to say thank you, whether to a person or to the mountains and trees, prioritizes gratitude and makes me remember that there is something to be grateful for even on the hardest days.
Cultivating gratitude is like any other nurturing act. Whether you are caring for a child, an animal, or a garden, the kindness and attention you give is returned to you. The motivation to take care of the world around you starts from a place of gratitude for it. Kimmerer writes that if we braid together an understanding of environmental science and an indigenous approach to the relationships between all who share the planet, we will be on a path toward greater contentment as well as a more sustainable relationship with our world.
If you’re intrigued by these ideas, there are a number of ways to engage with others in our community who are ready to delve deeper. Here are just a few:
- Visit the Rogue Reads page on the JCLS website for an overview of the program, discussion guides, and more.
- Sign up to track the amount of reading you do this winter. You could win a prize in one of our drawings!
- Check Braiding Sweetgrass out from the library. It is an engaging read, and I hear the audiobook is particularly good.
- Register for our live, virtual author talk with Robin Wall Kimmerer on February 23rd.
- Browse events and Take & Make kits for all ages on our online calendar.
- Engage the young people in your life with the Rogue Reads titles for teens, children, and families.