Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer


This title is part of BHA's Jim Posewitz Digital Library: Required Reading for Conservationists


Outwardly, Braiding Sweetgrass appears to be a book about plants, viewed through Dr. Kimmerer’s own tandem lens of her degree in botany and Anishinaabe traditional environmental knowledge. Indeed, she weaves these different ways of seeing the world together as tenderly as she describes the eponymous braiding of sweetgrass, but I’d be doing us all a disservice to imply this book is just a collection of feel-good personal stories about plants whose names cause me to feel a pang of nostalgia for the eastern hardwoods of my childhood. Rather, it’s a lesson in land ethic; a tool for reshaping how we think about human ecology. The only book I consider to be equally essential to my education in conservation ethics is A Sand County Almanac.

So what can a book about plants teach us about hunting, fishing and omnivorism? In a word: reciprocity.

There’s a tendency, particularly among non-hunters and non-anglers, to think of what we do as inherently lopsided: all take, no give. And, as an archaeologist, I’m all too familiar with our tendency to think of our species as being entirely separate from all that is “natural.” Kimmerer makes it abundantly clear neither one need be true. And, if we’re to do right by the public lands and waters that enrich our lives, it shouldn’t be.

“Cultures of gratitude must also be cultures of reciprocity,” she writes. “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 education is to know those duties and how to perform them.”

For fellow Leopold enthusiasts, this lesson surely sounds familiar, and I hope to see Kimmerer’s name become as familiar to conservationists as his. This book continually inspires me to ask: “In what ways am I returning the gifts to sage grouse, mule deer, grizzly bears or bighorn sheep? How can I say ‘thank you’ more often?” I hope you’ll give it a read and do the same.

-LIZ LYNCH, BHA member, Wyoming


Purchase Braiding Sweetgrass on Amazon Smile, and register Backcountry Hunters & Anglers as your preferred nonprofit to give back to your wild public lands, waters and wildlife. 

About Zack Williams

Backcountry Journal editor