Plants Reweave the Connection between Land and People

Hello! I’m Cheryl Dunn in Lincoln, NE for HPPR’s Radio Readers Fall Book Club.

I think we forget sometimes that art and science can so easily go hand in hand. Since the times of Darwin, scientific writing has gotten more and more strict in how one needs to disseminate information. Gone are the days of a little more creative writing with science mixed into it – that is until you get to a book like Braiding Sweetgrass.

What Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book does is it takes us back to those times when researchers working with plants in prairies and grasslands and forests used to weave a wonderful story that had science mixed in. Using creative writing to explain the science of the world, I believe, attracted more people to understand why something is the way it is and now stringent writing, while necessary in most circumstances, can lose others in the general public.

The other day in my office I came across a paper from the 1930s that Raymond J Poole, a professor here at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wrote entitled The White Man versus the Prairie which was done shortly after a drought. I quote from that work, “first of all we must learn that Mother Nature is not a nudist by choice. If left to her own ways she will clothe herself in a lovely smock of forest trees or at least in a sarong of prairie grasses or weeds. I have been intimating that man for thousands of years has been running away with her clothes so persistently and so completely that she has had the greatest of difficulty to preserve her modesty.”

After reading this book this portion of writing by a scientific professor spoke to me in so many ways because it’s exactly what this book teaches you as well and this is almost 80 years ago. I don’t know if we’ve done any better in understanding why the preservation of our natural world is so important. As Robin says “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 as well as spirit. To recreate a home, the plants must also return.”

It’s not only the creative writing that I think a scientist can utilize but we can also express ourselves through drawings of our natural world. There is a whole group of people that do scientific illustrations. These drawings include the finest details of plants and animals and insects in order to make amazing drawings that can hang beautifully on walls, be put into books to teach others why the plants and animals and insects are so important or be used to help us understand every single unique element. There have been great discoveries by just these drawings.

I was told a story that an artist was so painstakingly accurate in drawing different insects that a new species was found. So, we can find so many different ways of looking at and enjoying our natural world and we don’t even realize it.

I think again that’s what this book tries to do throughout. Kimmerer has so many different chapters that I think tried to speak to different people, whether you are someone that looks at the very finest of the lichens in the world or are someone making a basket, eating syrup or picking strawberries.

The author tries to weave her great writings into something that you can ultimately relate to and she does it so masterfully in order to take you on a science journey.

As Robin says “One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence.”

I’m Cheryl Dunn for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club’s 2023 Fall Read – Wisdom of the Natural World.

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