By Robin Wall Kimmerer


I have an imaginary library. One day I’d like to have a real one, but until I get around to putting up shelves it lives in my head.

In this library, there’s a shelf of Very Special Books. There’s some overlap with the shelf of Very Important Books, but not all important books are special.

Braiding Sweetgrass is very special and very important. A wonderful, beautiful exploration of indigenous knowledge and ways of thinking about the natural world, it brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart throughout.

Much of the book opened my eyes to knowledge and spirituality that I didn’t have before, but just as special were the sections that felt like coming home.

There are two broad approaches to connecting with the natural world: the scientific and the compassionate. That’s not to say they don’t overlap, but we tend to keep them separate. Most of the world is awash with the scientific approach: fascinated but detached, almost cold. If you feel disconnected with this clinical view of the natural world, if you struggle to hold Latin species names within your heart, or you feel something missing from terms like ‘natural resources’ or ‘ecosystem services’, reading Braiding Sweetgrass will feel like dipping into a warm bath.

Read this book and let love, gratitude and wonder for the natural world wash over you. Learn how compassion for the natural world is useful both in conserving it and in studying it.

Rooted in the relationship between indigenous peoples and the land, the teachings that Kimmerer relays feel at once profound, revolutionary, and so right as to be almost painfully obvious (once you open your eyes to them).

The lessons, sentiments, and stories in Braiding Sweetgrass are flexible. They will be meaningful to readers of any background. The book doesn’t advocate a return to hunter-gatherer society and neither does it hold out a specific lifestyle as an ideal: the focus is on our relationship with the land, our love for it, and connection to it.

This is a book that will shape you, and that allows you to shape the effect of its messages. It will mean different things to different people, but it will always mean something special.

The messages cut through the arguments, the changing science, the uncertainty about the nitty gritty of conservation approaches and policy decisions and taps into something far bigger and more fundamental, something that goes to the heart of who we are.

I thought this book was new, as I've seen it so often recently on social media, but it was written in 2013 - its text is timeless, and I'll return to it again and again. My copy is multi-coloured: my highlighter ran dry trying to frame all of the insights, the poetic language, the useful natural history, the value-forming, soul-shaping truths.

A synoptical review of Braiding Sweetgrass wouldn't do it justice. It's a tapestry of personal insights and experiences interwoven with indigenous stories, knowledge, and history. Natural history makes an appearance, teaching the way of the land and the beings who live here alongside you; teaching you to love it and everyone we share this home with.

Read this book and treasure it.

Share with your friends

Subscribe to my newsletter

Join me in learning about our natural world and how we can protect and restore it. Get notified on my latest posts and a monthly newsletter on wider conversation topics for us to chat about.