Rarely does a book come around that fills me with hope and inspires me with possibilities, much less shift my perception. In the shit storm of suffering that was 2020, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer was that book for me. Kimmerer is a lovely writer whose prose sometimes verges on poetic, especially when she talks about plants and the ways and practices of Native Americans.
The stories that she brings to explain her perspective on life and living are gentle reminders that we can adopt a different way of being in the world. She acknowledges that we, as humans, are consumers and presents ways that gratitude and reciprocity can be key factors in how we conduct ourselves.
She addresses the theme of greed using the story of the Windigo. She brings to the forefront our relationship to plants in the western tradition as objects rather than as subjects in the Native American tradition. If we could move away from calling a plant “it” and recognize the plant as a non-human person, how would our relationship change? I find the concept of personifying all living beings very appealing.
What are some of the guidelines she gives us? When I hear them, they sound like common sense advice for managing any transaction. She is focusing, of course, on our relationship to plants and to the environment. Protocols such as “Never take the first plant of a species that you see,” “Take only what you need,” and “Minimize harm” are three of the ten that she lays out. By practicing these protocols, we respect the rights of Mother Earth. It’s worth reading the book if only to learn what the other protocols of an honorable harvest are!
Our book group unanimously enjoyed and appreciated Braiding Sweetgrass. Our next book is the classic, seminal Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. In honor of Earth Day, we will be meeting that week on Monday, April 19 to discuss it. How have things changed since this book was written? What still needs to be addressed? What other issues have come to the forefront over the last sixty years?
If you would like to join in our discussion, please contact me. Unless we find ourselves with an extraordinarily nice day so that we can meet outside, we will continue on Zoom for now.
I hope that everyone is getting an opportunity to be outside in Nature to enjoy the miracle of Spring where living is reaffirmed and life is started anew. The Serviceberry is blooming as well as the Redbud. The Virginia Bluebells are nodding in the breeze while the Golden Ragwort is spreading and standing proud with its yellow blooms. Close by to me, I watch two Bluebirds attend their nest in the birdhouse we recently relocated and I laugh at the little Skinks as they scurry across the deck. There’s suddenly so much going on that I could write pages just on my observations!
about the Annapolis Green Reads book club
Tags: Braiding Sweetgrass, Environmental Book Club, Green Reads Annapolis, Indigenous Wisdom, Karen Grumbles, Rachel Carson, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Silent Spring, Teachings of Plants
by Karen Grumbles
You know the experiences where you are walking through a nature area and you hear the sounds of many birds, see all the different bugs skittering around on the ground and the strikingly beautiful butterflies fluttering around above the shrubs? We all tend to gravitate to places like Quiet Waters Park and Jug Bay Natural Area just for those kinds of experiences. Annapolis Green Reads Book Group picked Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants for its October read so that we can all learn how to bring that wildlife to our own yards and community spaces.
Doug Tallamy talks about how we need many more of those spaces and that they need to be all around us in order to truly have a healthy, functioning ecosystem. He is a scientist, a specialist in entomology, with some important knowledge to impart.
He has studied the relationship of particular plants to insects, caterpillars, and butterflies to see which ones use the plants for food and for habitat. The insects as food source then beckon the birds and reptiles and other mammals to take up residence. He introduces us to a variety of native plants that are best for this ecosystem and even identifies “keystone” plants, those that benefit the largest variety of critters. As one member of the group said, “Everybody should have at least one oak tree in their yard.”
A memorable lesson from the book is that plants that are not native are frequently useless to the insects that we need for a healthy ecosystem. The reason that the beautiful Crepe Myrtles stay looking so pristine all year round is because no insects are using them for food. Ditto for the Norway Maple and the Bradford Pear tree. Why would we want to give our precious yard space to plants that serve no purpose in the environment?
The obvious response is that they are pretty. As we think through this some more, it starts to get really interesting because as the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We start thinking about who decides what constitutes ‘pretty’ in our urban and suburban yards? Is there a native plant that might be just as attractive as the non-native one we’ve been thinking about getting? We could even ask, ”Does the wildlife see these non-native plants as attractive?” because we really aren’t a keystone species for sustaining a healthy environment, other than fixing what we’ve broken.
In our book group, we all seem to have an appreciation for Tallamy’s perspective on the ecosystem. Humans have destroyed natural spaces and he provides the fundamentals for how to bring those spaces back and build a healthy ecosystem by starting with planting natives.
The second half of this book is a useful reference resource with native plants matched to the insects they attract. We discussed whether landscape gardeners are educated on this approach and what other resources are available*, that incentives for communities to plant natives might make a difference, and the importance and challenge of removing invasive species such as the dreaded phragmites and Japanese stiltgrass.
Tallamy has a new book out entitled Nature’s Best Hope that gives some practical steps on how to improve the spaces around us with native plants as a grassroots effort. It’s on our list of possible feature reads.
If you’d like to be included in our book group, please contact me. We would like to meet at Old Fox Books and support a local business but for now, because of COVID, we’re meeting via Zoom. Our November book is the 2018 Pulitzer winning novel The Overstory by Richard Powers.
*Annapolis Green sells a reference book that I am planning to ask for as a Christmas gift entitled Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for Eastern U.S.: The Guide to Creating A Sustainable Landscape by Tony Dove and Ginger Woolridge!
Learn more about our book club, Annapolis Green Reads.
Tags: Annapolis Green Reads, book club, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Douglas Tallamy, Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for Eastern U.S.: The Guide to Creating A Sustainable Landscape, Ginger Woolridge, Karen Grumbles, native plants, Nature's Best Hope, Tony Dove