Memoirs with Melissa shares bimonthly reviews intended to expose readers to diverse authors and life experiences. To see more of what I’m reading, browse my virtual memoir shelf on Goodreads.
The first time I started Braiding Sweetgrass, I didn’t know it contained memoir as one of its narrative threads. My mom had placed the book in my hands, and I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t hold it for long.
I’m used to grabbing easy-access, bite-size information from nonfiction. So, when I skipped the preface and encountered Skywoman, the opening indigenous creation story that starts Kimmerer’s offering, I didn’t pay her gift due attention. I was recovering from my stint as a single parent and assumed the book would require too much of my time. So, I gave it back.
Last fall, my mom nudged the book into my awareness again. Kimmerer had won a MacArthur genius grant. I had since grown a garden, written a memoir, and acquired the sense to slow down and listen.
Anchored in Kimmerer’s calm, lyrical voice, the preface—a physical and metaphoric description of braiding sweetgrass—drew me in from the start. As I listened further, it became clear the book was a braid of sweetgrass itself, formed between Kimmerer (the author and expert weaver) and me (the reader) holding the book in my awareness.
In “A Mother’s Work,” Kimmerer becomes a single parent, a minor part of the book that spoke volumes to me and my personal history.
Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a botanist, a professor, and a writer. She weaves her personal stories with indigenous ways of knowing and scientific knowledge to animate and expand our connection with the natural world. Her book reads like a collection of essays, two of my favorites being “A Mother’s Work” and “The Three Sisters.”
In “A Mother’s Work,” Kimmerer becomes a single parent, a minor part of the book that spoke volumes to me and my personal history. Her partner wants a life with less responsibility, and so their responsibilities become hers. Whereas many single parents spend their precious few hours to themselves reading or watching TV, Kimmerer chooses an unconventional refuge.
Between Girl Scout meetings and a full-time job, she commits to restoring a swimming pond behind her house. She wades through muck, studies algae, and experiments with ways to remove excess nutrients so thick they sometimes trap wildlife. All the while, she plucks tadpoles and other creatures from her rake so as not to kill another mother’s children while making a place for hers to swim.
Kimmerer also teaches her children to care for the earth by showing them how to make a garden. I’ve taught my own children to make a garden, which is why I adored “The Three Sisters” chapter. Beyond the garden’s origin story and the science of how corn, beans, and squash work together, “The Three Sisters” nourished the creative in me.
At a time when it’s easy to doubt what I have to offer the world (yep, still querying that memoir), Kimmerer’s writing about the garden assured me we each have unique gifts that the earth needs. It’s a heartening affirmation that illustrates one of the original promises she makes of sweet grass in the preface: “Breathe it in and you start to remember things you didn’t know you’d forgotten.”
Want This Memoir?
Consider purchasing from your local independent bookstore or borrowing from your local library. If you have a library card, you may also have access to the audio version of this book on Hoopla or Libby.
Upcoming Memoir Workshop: April 8
If you missed my memoir workshop last month with Tricia Booker, author of The Place of Peace and Crickets, we’ll be doing an abbreviated version with River City Writers at the Jacksonville Southeast Regional Library, Saturday, April 8, 1:00 - 2:30pm in Room B. We’ll be joined by Darlyn Finch Kuhn, author of Sewing Holes, with a special focus on getting creative at addressing privacy issues. This event is free and open to the public.
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Kimmerer is a gift to the world, as are your heartfelt, poignant reviews❤️.