I’ve persistently believed that any human intervention in nature is bad. Whatever we do on Earth, it seems that we make things worse. Maintaining our precious lawns leaches poison into the soil. Species go extinct at alarming rates. Oil and trash choke the ocean. All the trappings of modern life have accelerated the graphic death and destruction of nature on seemingly every level.
I am so inured to this gloomy reality that I hardly stop to question it. But then I read a beautiful book by an ecologist and botanist named Robin Wall Kimmerer, whom I’ve surely written about before. Her story challenged the story I have so long accepted as truth.
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer, who is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, describes a path forward for reclaiming a beneficial, grateful relationship between human beings and the natural world. She shares a study from one of her graduate students, who discovers that sweetgrass flourishes when raised and harvested by people. Rather than thriving when left to its own devices in the wild, sweetgrass grows more prolifically from season to season when it is harvested regularly by the conscientious basket-makers who live nearby.
Of course, this is one small example amid many that tell a darker tale. But hearing this story gave me such a welcome boost of hope. Indeed, Kimmerer’s entire book is a gentle but powerful rebuke of our tendency to feel despair and cynicism about the planet. Rather than throwing up our hands and saying it’s a lost cause, Kimmerer tells us to plant gardens. Learn the names of the trees and wildflowers that grow in your neighborhood. Behave as if the planet can be redeemed. As she writes:
“Being naturalized to place 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. To become naturalized is to know that your ancestors lie in this ground. Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.”
In what continues to be a difficult season, I am encouraged to discover stories that challenge narratives I’ve swallowed as truth. I am hungry for hope, in almost any format, and I am humbled to find it challenging my long-held assumptions.
(Excerpt from this week’s issue of Story Matters.)
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“The land loves us back. She loves us with beans and tomatoes, with roasting ears and blackberries and birdsongs. By a shower of gifts and a heavy rain of lessons. She provides for us and teaches us to provide for ourselves. That’s what good mothers do.”Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
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