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Braiding Sweetgrass Discussion Section 2 Tending Sweetgrass

  1. This is the discussion of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, section 2: Tending Sweetgrass. To see the discussion on Section 1: Planting Sweetgrass, click here.

Maple Sugar Moon

Wall Kimmerer explores the idea of doing a task that was an annual ritual for her ancestors–collecting and boiling down sugar maple sap into syrup–with her young children. She contrasts the ways the trees created the sap and the ways humans collected and processed the sap. She sees boiling sap one year with and for her children as a way to mother them into her culture’s rituals.

Near the end of the chapter she reveals that her children remember that episode as being so much work for them, even though Wall Kimmerer was the one who sat up all night tending the fire! This seemed to me like a classic parenting outcome–giving so much and having the kids remember it totally differently.

Questions: Have you done something in a traditional way that is done more efficiently or commerically now? What did you learn from doing this project?

Is there something your children see radically differently than you do? How do you reconcile that?

Witch Hazel

This is the story of Wall Kimmerer’s neighbor Hazel Barnett, who lived near them when they lived in Kentucky. This chapter is told from the point of view of Wall Kimmerer’s daughter (she doesn’t say which one). The chapter talks about friendship as a form of stewardship, and interweaves taking care of land and plants and animals with tending a friendship and caring for an elder who can’t manage logistics anymore.

I thought this chapter was so sweet and beautiful, and it felt special because we hadn’t heard anything about Wall Kimmerer’s parents being present in her life during that part of her life. Intergenerational friendship isn’t an obvious theme in our culture. By positioning this as being by her daughter, Wall Kimmerer gets three generations out of the story instead of only two.

Questions: Do you have any intergenerational friendships in your life? Have you considered the value of intergenerational friendships before?

Have you done any life management for elders in your life? How does it make you feel to be needed in this specific way?

A Mother’s Work

This chapter tells the story of Wall Kimmerer trying to make a real home for her daughters, with a pond on their property as the central project that needs to be completed (in her mind) to makes things really Home.

Of course, the pond is much more important and compelling to Wall Kimmerer than it ever is to her daughters, who grow up and leave home before she feels like she’s really cleared it out enough for swimming. But the struggle seems perfectly matched to Wall Kimmerer’s area of expertise, and it’s also impossible to win, whereas we see that Wall Kimmerer and her daughters are already home to each other.

Question: Do you have a pond in your life? Something you think you have to fix to be a worthy parent?

The Consolation of Water Lilies

“I had known it would happen the first time I held her–from that moment on, all her growing would be away from me.”

This chapter, about her children leaving home, hit me hard because I read it right when my own first child had left home. The paragraph about feeding every creature that lived with her, and all the plants and even her car, made me laugh in recognition. I love that, too, and I know a lot of us do.

The second half of the chapter, the unfurling of Wall Kimmerer’s being fed not only by the pond and the water lilies, but also by her sister-cousin, is a beautiful reminder to me to notice who has their hands out to me and is feeding me.

Question: Are you at the stage yet of being able to enjoy having to feed everyone? Or are you still feeding creatures so helpless that the pressure doesn’t give you any space?

Who or what feeds you?

Allegiance to Gratitude

This chapter was a big reframe for me in how I want my kids to see their daily struggles. I think I’d been raising them to feel like they were in opposition to the Republicforwhichitstands, as Wall Kimmerer calls the dominant system. But what if I could take the attitude of being thankful participants in ritual and community without buying into the dominant system? That would give my kids a good life without having to sell themselves out.

Question: Who or what do you feel allegiance to?

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