braiding sweetgrass

braiding sweetgrass

(2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer


intro’d to braiding sweetgrass via jason here:

Jason Hickel (@jasonhickel) tweeted at 6:30 AM on Thu, Jan 30, 2020:
My understanding of the deep drivers of the ecological crisis, and what is required to reverse it, has been enhanced immeasurably by reading indigenous philosophers. In this vein, I highly recommend the extraordinary Robin Wall Kimmerer, and her book “Braiding Sweetgrass.”



planting sweetgrass

skywoman falling


in other words, our relationship w land cannot heal until we hear its stories, but who will tell them

hmm.. i don’t know

i think the stories are already in us.. if we could just get/be quiet enough to hear/see

council of pecans


nuts are like the pan fish of the forest, full of protein and esp fat ‘poor man’s mean’ and they were poor.. today we eat them daintily, shelled and toasted, but in the old times they’d boil them up in a porridge.. the fat floated to the top like a chicken soup and they skimmed it and stored it as nut butter: good for winters.. after all, that’s the whole point of nuts: to provide the embryo with all that is needed to start a new life


they are designed to be food for winter, when you need fat and protein, heavy calories to keep you warm.. safety for hard times.. the embryo of survival

so rich is the reward.. contents are protected.. in the way of all hoards, some will surely be forgotten.. and then a tree is born..


trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective.. ie one tree fruits, they all fruit.. starve together or feast together.. fruits more than needed.. so that some are left to seed new trees.. give.. give


such communal generosity might seem incompatible w the process of evolution, which invoked the imperative of individual survival. but we make a grave error if we try to separate individual well being from the health of the whole..t

the gift of abundance form pecans is also a gift to themselves.. by sating squirrels and people, the trees are ensuring their own survival

the fed govt’s indian removal policies wrenched many native peoples from our homelands. it separated us from o ur traditional knowledge and lifeways.. but even this did not extinguish identity.. so the govt tried a new tool, separating children from families and cultures and sending them far away to school, long enough, they hoped to make them forget who they were

what supposed to’s.. of school/work.. does for all of us


children, language, lands: almost everything was stripped away, stolen when you weren’t looking because you were trying to stay alive.. in face of such loss, one thing our people could not surrender was the meaning of land. in the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources.. but to our people , it was everything; identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us.. our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground.. it belonged to itself, it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be bought/sold..  land held in common gave people strength.. and.. in eyes of govt.. that belief was a threat..

so govt offers permanent land.. and change to become us citizens.. constitution didn’t protect people.. but if citizen.. protected.. promised the american dream.. all they had to do was agree to surrender allegiance to land held in common and agree to private property

hardt/negri property law


leaders deliberated that summer.. stay and risk all or leave and become individual landowners.. but teachings of pecans were not heard or heeded: stick together, act as one

so moved.. and by accepting citizenship.. they ensured allotments could not be taken from them. unless.. a citizen could not pay taxes.. or a rancher offered a keg of whisky and a lot of money ‘fair and square’.. any unallocated parcels were snapped up by non indian settlers.. barely a generation after land was ‘guaranteed’ thru sacrifice of common land converted to private property. most of it was gone..


in old times, our elders say, the trees talked to each other.. but scientists decide long ago that plants were deaf and mute.. locked in isolation w/o communication.. the possibility of conversation was summarily dismissed.. science pretends to be purely rational, completely neutral, a system of knowledge making in which the observation is independent to the observer.. and yet the conclusion was drawn that plants cannot communicate because they lack the mechanisms that animals use to speak.. the potentials for plants were seen purely thru the lens of animal capacity

just as we do with other humans.. ie: literacy and numeracy as colonialism/control/enclosure

 there is now compelling evidence that our elders were right.. the trees are talking to one another.. they communicate via pheromones..hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden w meaning..


there is so much we cannot yet sense w our limited human capacity. tree conversations are still far above our heads..

esp since we have become so intoxicated

some studies of mast fruiting have suggested that the mechanism for synchrony comes not thru the air, but underground.. roots

these fungal networks appear to redistribute the wealth of carbohydrates form tree to tree.. a kind of robin hood, they take from the rich and give to the poor so that all the trees arrive at the same carbon surplus at the same time..  trees all act as one.. the fungi have connected them.. all flourishing is mutual.. soil, fungus, tree, squirrel, boy.. all are the beneficiaries of reciprocity

not sure i would call it reciprocity

rather.. just the dance..  of an undisturbed ecosystem

how generously they show us w food, literally giving themselves so that we can live.. but in the giving their lives are also ensured.. our taking returns benefit to them in the circle of life making life, the chain of reciprocity..  to take only what is give, use it well, be grateful for gift, and reciprocate gift.. is easy in a pecan grove..

gift of strawberries


strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet.. a gift comes to you thru no action of our own, free, having moved toward you w/o your beckoning.. (how to respond to their generosity).. it is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it.. and yet it appears.. your only role is to be open eyed and present.. gifts exist in a realm of humility and mystery – as w random acts of kindness, we do not know their source..


no person taught us this.. the strawberries showed us..


it’s funny how the nature of an object – let’s say a strawberry or a pair of socks – is so changed by the way it has come into your hands, as gift or as a commodity..

lewis hyde ‘ it is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that  a gift establishes a feeling bond between two people’

because it is given to us.. it should only be given to others (not told)


‘you can’t get something for nothing’.. but that’s exactly the point.. a gift is something for nothing, except that certain obligations are attached..

dang.. here i thought she was redefining gift ness.. but no.. still poisoning relationship with obligation ness..

let go..

that is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases w their passage.. the more something is shared, the greater its value becomes..

except.. we don’t even think about ‘value’ ness.. if we’re truly common\ing et al.. in love.. no strings.. et al


on indian giver ness having a negative misinterpretation.. rather.. indian expected it to circle back round..

the currency of a gift econ is, at its root, reciprocity..

reciprocity.. as cancer

in western thinking, private land is understood to be a ‘bundle of rights’ whereas in a gift econ property has a ‘bundle of responsibilities’ attached

oh my.. both just as poisonous..

powerful enough to reciprocate.. et al

we have to get back\to an undisturbed ecosystem


lewis hyde: ‘gift exchange is the commerce of choice, for it is commerce that harmonizes with , or participates in, the process of [nature’s] increase’

yeah.. i don’t think exchange or commerce are words/ideas we want to be a part of.. they certainly don’t harmonize


an offering


ceremonies large and small have the power to focus attention to a way of living awake in the world.. the land knows.. even when you are lost

the offering says ‘here we are’ and still i hear at the end of the words the land murmuring to itself ‘ohh, here are the ones who know how to say thank you’..


much of who i am and what i do is wrapped up in my father’s offering by the lakeshore. each day still begins w a version of ‘here’s to the gods of tahawus’.. a thanksgiving for the day..

ceremony is a vehicle for belonging – to a family, to a people, and to the land..

i don’t know.. i don’t think we need a vehicle for true belonging..

that i think is the power of ceremony: it marries the mundane to the sacred.. the material and the spiritual mingle


what else can you offer the earth which has everything.. what else can you give but something of yourself

asters and goldenrod


i’ve heard that early experience can attune the brain to certain stimuli, so that they are processed w greater speed/certainty, so that they can be used again and again, so that we remember. love at first sight..


(on asters and goldenrod – purple and gold) why do the y stand beside each other when they could grow alone? why this particular pair? (reason for going into botany.. i just wanted to know why).. why is the world so beautiful.. it seemed like a good question to me.. but my advisor said, ‘it’s not science’.. not what botany was about..

‘not science’ he said, and he ought to know, sitting in  his lab, a learned prof of botany.. ‘and if you want to study beauty you should go to art school’.. he told me science was not about beauty, not about the embrace between plants and humans

i had no rejoinder (reply, esp witty); i had made a mistake. there was no fight in me, only embarrassment at my error.. i did not have the words for resistance..

i didn’t think of it at the time.. but it was happening all over again, an echo of my grandfather’s first day at school, when he was ordered to leave everything – language, culture, family – behind.. the prof made me doubt where i came from, what i knew, and claimed that his was the right way to think

this is actually everyone..

supposed to’s.. of school/work .. killing us


the questions scientists raised were not ‘who are you’ but ‘what is it’.. no one asked plants ‘what can you tell us’.. the primary question was ‘how does it work’.. the botany i was taught was reductionist, mechanistic, and strictly objective.. plants were reduced to objects; they were not subjects..


the way botany was conceived and taught didn’t seem to leave much room for a person who thought the way i did.. the only way i could make sense of it was to conclude that the thing is had always believed about plants must not be true after all

this is what teaching ness does .. to all of us


my natural inclination was to see relationships, to see the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide. but science is rigorous in separating the observer from the observed, and the observed from the observer.. why two flowers are beautiful together would violate the division necessary for objectivity

following the path of science trained me to separate.. phd et al.. ‘i have learned the names of all the bushes, but i have yet to learn their songs’.. i was teaching names and ignoring their songs.. i circled back to where i had begun .. to the question of beauty.. back to the question that science does not ask, not because they aren’t important, but because science as way of knowing is too narrow for the task..t

learning the grammar of animacy

while reading this tweet

Jason Hickel (@jasonhickel) tweeted at 11:00 AM on Sun, Mar 08, 2020:
“Animism had endowed things with souls; industrialism makes souls into things.”
-Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno


the wordless being of others in which we are never alone.. after the drumbeat of my mothers’ heart, this was my first language

no words.. beyond words.. idiosyncratic jargon ness

listening in wild places, we are audience to conversations in a language not our own..t

never nothing going on.. beyond words.. begs idio-jargon ness


the language scientists speak, however precise, is based on a profound error in grammar, an omission, a grave loss in translation..t from the native languages of these shores..  you’d think that biologists, of all people would have words for life..  but in scientific language our terminology is used to define the boundaries of our knowing.. what lies beyond our grasp remains unnamed..


our toddlers speak of plants and animals as if they were people, extending to them self and intention and compassion – until we tech them not to.. t.. we quickly retrain them and make them forget..

not yet scrambled ness

holmgren indigenous law


we americans are reluctant to learn a foreign language of our own species, let alone another species.. but imagine the possibilities.. imagine the access we would have to different perspectives.. the things we might see thru other eyes.. the wisdom that surrounds us.. we don’t have to figure out everything by ourselves: there are intelligences other than our own, teachers all around us. imagine how much less lonely the world would be.. t

our work is to learn to speak the grammar of animacy.. so that we might truly be at home


words of a cheyenne elder.. i spoke to him w a heavy heart.. lamenting that i had no native language w which to speak to the plants and the places that i love.. ‘they love to hear the old language’ he said, ‘it’s true.. but’.. he said w fingers on his lips ‘you don’t have to speak it here.. if you speak it here’ .. patting his chest.. ‘they will hear you.. ‘

tending sweetgrass

maple sugar moon


cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity. each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. just as all beings have a duty to me, i have a duty to them..if an animal gives its life to feed me, i am in turn bound to support its life.. if i receive a stream’s gift of pure water, then i am responsible for returning a gift in kind.. an integral part of a human’s ed is to know those duties and how to perform them

dang.. this is poison.. this is not

it’s such a simple thing, but we all know the power of gratitude to incite a cycle of reciprocity..

ugh.. let go.. what happen to the not expecting anything in return.. reciprocity has ‘strings‘ written all over it

listen deeper


the thanksgiving address describes our mutual allegiance as human delegates to the democracy of species. if what we want for our people is patriotism, then let us inspire true love of country by invoking the land herself. if we want to raise good leaders, let us remind our children of the eagle and the maple.. if we want to grow good citizens, then let us teach reciprocity..

wow.. allegiance, democracy, patriotism, leaders, citizens, reciprocity.. all cancers

picking sweetgrass


they complain about garden chores, as kids are supposed to do, but once they start they get caught up in the softness of the dirts and the smell of the day

yeah.. i don’t think they’re (any of us) supposed to complain.. i don’t think they’re (any of us) supposed to have chores


how do we show our children our love? each in our won way by a shower of gifts and a heavy rain of lessons


this is really why i made my daughter learn to garden – so they would alway shave a mother to love them, long after i am gone

lovely thought.. for sure.. but i don’t think anyone needs to be made to learn it.. i think if we’re truly free.. we can’t not.. do/know/grok/be it..

the epiphany in the beans.. i spend a lot of time thinking about our relationships w land, how we are given so much and what we might give back. i try to work thru the equation of reciprocity and responsibility, the whys and wherefores of building sustainable relationships with ecosystems

yeah.. i don’t think we need equations for that.. in fact.. the equations..  (any form of measuring/accounting).. are what keep poisoning us.. keeping us from us

ie: undisturbed ecosystem.. ‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’ –Dana Meadows


what do you suppose would happen if people believed this crazy notion that the earth loved them back..  knowing that you love the earth changes you


i wonder if much that ails our society stems from the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be cut off from that love of, and from, the land.. it is medicine for broken land and empty hearts..


what if you had no language at all and yet there was something you needed to say? wouldn’t you dance ti? wouldn’t you act it out.. wouldn’t your every movement tell the story.. in time you would become so eloquent that just to gaze upon you would reveal it all.. and so it is w these silent green lives..


plants teach in a universal language: food.. corn, beans, and squash – feed the people, feed the land, and feed our imaginations.. telling us how we might live.. the genius of the indigenous agriculture..  together their stems inscribe what looks to me like a blueprint for the world, a map of balance and harmony


there is one thing they all need that is alway sin short supply – nitrogen.. these glistening nodules house the rhizobium bacteria, the nitrogen fixers.. convert nitrogen .. but won’t work in presence of oxygen.. since an average handful of soil is more than 50% air.. the rhizobium needs a refuge in order to do its work..


it’s tempting to imagine that these three are deliberate in working together, and perhaps they are.. but the beauty of the partnership is that each plant does what it does in order to increase its own growth. but as it happens, when the individuals flourish, so does the whole..t

undisturbed ecosystem

‘in undisturbed ecosystems ..the average individual, species, or population, left to its own devices, behaves in ways that serve and stabilize the whole..’ –Dana Meadows

most important thing each of us can know is our unique *gift and how to use it in the world.. in order for whole to flourish.. each of us has to be strong in who we are and carry our gifts w conviction so they can be shared w others.. t


fittingness/eudaimoniative surplus

begs we listen to daily curiosity  ie: cure ios city


getting scientists to consider the validity of indigenous knowledge is like swimming upstream in cold cold water. they’ve been so conditioned to be skeptical of even the hardest of hard data that bending their minds toward theories that are verified w/o the expected graphs or equation s is tough.. couple that with the unblinking assumption that science has cornered the market on truth and there’s not much room for discussion..t

of math and men.. we need to let go of any form of measuring/accounting


we do not pay at the pump for the cost of climate change.. cheap gas now or maples for the next gen..


(not everything should be convenient).. how can we distinguish between that which is given by the earth and that which is not.. restoring the honorable harvest, bringing back the medicine

braiding sweetgrass


sweetgrass, as the hair of mother earth, is traditionally braided to show loving care for her well being.. braids, plaited of three strands, are given away as signs of kindness and gratitude


being naturalized to p;lace means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit..


the ceremonies that persist.. bday, weddings, funerals.. focus only on ourselves.. making rites of personal transition.. perhaps most universal.. hs graduation.. i love graduation in my small town.. sense of community in the shared emotions.. pride for the young people walking across the stage.. we honor their hard work/accomplishment against all odds.. tell them they are our hope .. we applaud for them.. at least in our little town..we know it’s not an empty ritual.. the ceremony has power.. our collective good wishes really do fuel the confidence/strength of young people about to leave home.. the ceremony reminds them of where they come from and their responsibilities to eh community that has supported them.. and the checks tucked into the grad cards help make their way in world.. these ceremonies too magnify life

ugh.. schooling the world .. whales in sea world .. et al

in a colonist society the ceremonies that endure are not about land.. they’re about family and culture, .. generating new ceremony.. but despite .. wonderful food.. tend toward commercial… i want to stand by the river in my finest dress.. i want to sing, strong and hard, and stomp mu feet w a hundred others so that the waters hum w our happiness.. i want to dance for the renewal of the world..

maybe let go of ceremony ness and embrace ie: spontaneity et al


plants are also integral to reweaving the connection between land and people.. a place becomes a home when it sustains you.. when it feeds you in body/spirit.. to recreate a home, the plants must also return..

at the end of the words that come before all else, when thanks have been given to all the beings of the land, i asked, ‘has the land ever been known to say thank you in reply?’ tom was quiet for a second, piled more pancakes on my plate, and set the syrup jug in front of me.. that’s as good an answer as i know


those tender white rhizomes cannot make their way across a highway or a parking lot..


here on my knees in the dirt, i find my own ceremony of reconciliation..


we pac up our tools and head up to the house to say our good byes for the day.. i op;en my hand to show the stone to tome..’this is the way the world works’ he says ‘in reciprocity’.. we gave sweetgrass and the land gave a diamond.. a smile lights his face and he closes my fingers over the stone. ‘this is for you’ he says

yeah.. i still don’t get the reciprocity ness.. i’m thinking ceremony ness and reciprocity ness.. are too calculated.. for the dance to dance..


if there is meaning in the past and in the imagined future, ti si captured in the moment. when you have all the time in the world, you can spend it, not on going somewhere, but on being where you are.. so i stretch out, close my eyes, and listen to the rain..


if you didn’t know better, you might not recognize raindrops and rivers as kin..


maybe there is no such thing as time.. there are only moments, each w its own story..

i suppose that’s the way (giant forehead and tiny ears) we humans are, thinking to much and listening too little.. paying attention acknowledges that we have something  to learn form intelligences other than our won.. listening.. standing witness.. creates an openness to the world in which the boundaries between us can dissolve in a raindrop..

burning sweetgrass

a sweetgrass braid is burned to create a ceremonial smudge that washes the recipient in kindness and compassion to heal the body/spirit


the windigo is the legendary monster of our anishinaabe people. the villain of a tale told on freezing nights in the north woods.. you can feel it lurking behind you..


but windigo is more than just a mythic monster intended to frighten children.. born of our fears/failings, windigo is the name for that w/in us which cares more for tis own survival than for anything else..

in terms of systems science, the windigo is a case study of a positive feedback loop, in which a change in one entity promotes a similar change in another, connected part of the system..  in this case, an increase in windigo hunger cause an increase in windigo eating..  promotes only more rampant hunger.. frenzy of uncontrolled consumption..  in the natural as well as the built environ.. positive feedback leads inexorably to change..  sometimes to growth.. sometimes to destruction.. when growth is unbalance, however, you can’t always tell the difference..

stable balance systems are typified by negative feedback loops, in which a change in one component incites an opposite change in another, so they balance each other out.. when hunger cause increased eating, eating caused decreased hunger; satiety is possible.. negative feedback is a form of reciprocity, a coupling of forces that create balance and sustainability..

windigo stories sought to encourage negative feedback loops in the minds of listeners.. traditional upbringing was designed to strengthen self discipline.. to build resistance against he insidious germ of taking too much

that .. was a learned/automated/programmed/coerced skill.. not natural..


i remember walking a street in manhattan, where the warm light of a lavish home spilled out over the sidewalk on a man picking thru the garbage for his dinner.. maybe we’ve all been banished to lonely corners by our obsession w private property..t

hardt/negri property law

wilde property law

doctorow property law

we’ve accepted banishment even from ourselves when we spend our beautiful, utterly singular lives on making more money to buy more things that feed but never satisfy.. it is the windigo way that tricks us into believing that belongings will fill our hunger, when it is belonging what we crave.. t

brown belonging law .. askew unconditional law.. et al..

maté basic needs

on a grander scale too we seem to be living in an era of windigo econ of fabricated demand and compulsive overconsumption.. what native peoples once sought to rein in, we are now asked to unleash in a systematic policy of sanctioned greed..  the fear for me is that the world has been turned inside out, the dark side made to seem light.. indulgent self interest that our people once held to be monstrous is now celebrated as success.. we are asked to admire what our people viewed as unforgivable..

and now blinded like whales in sea world

the consumption drive mind set masquerades as ‘quality of life’ but eats us from w/in.. the black hole of the stomach that never fills..t

almaas holes law et al

govts still cling to the neoclassical fallacy that human consumption has no consequences.. we continue to embrace econ systems that prescribe infinite growth of a finite planet..  as if somehow the universe had repealed the laws of thermodynamics on our behalf..


restoring land w/o restoring relationship is an empty exercise. it is relationship that will endure and relationship that will sustain the restored land.. reconnecting people and the landscape is as essential as reestablishing proper hydrology or cleaning up contaminants.. it is medicine for the earth..  as we work to heal the earth the earth heals us


we may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words. language is our gift and our responsibility. i’ve come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity w the living land. words to remember old stories, words to tell new ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together to nurture our becoming people made of corn

yeah.. i don’t know..

literacy and numeracy as colonialism/control/enclosure

language as control/enclosure

et al


the shortage is due not to how much material wealth there actually is, but to the way in which it is exchange or circulate.. the market system artificially creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source and the consumer..

rather.. between the resource and the daily curiosity

grain may rot in warehouse while hungry people stare because they cannot pay for it.. what is the alt.. and how do we get there?

let’s try/code money (any form of measuring/accounting) as the planned obsolescence

ie: ubi as temp placebo.. getting us back/to an undisturbed ecosystem

these contemp econ alts strongly echo the indigenous worldview in which the earth exists not as private property, but as a commons, to be tended w respect and reciprocity for the benefit of all

rather.. to be danced with.. the f measuring/accounting ness of reciprocity is part of what got us here in the first place

common\ing et al

it’s not just changes in policy that we need, but also changes to the heart

rather.. let’s go with detox.. sans policy.. ie: 2 convers as infra


the moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given.. for all that we have taken

that mentality keeps killing us.. keeps us in that broken feedback loop.. of measuring/accounting.. rather than living/being/dancing..

let go