Braiding Sweetgrass #3 –The Religion of More

The book—and the evening discussion of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants on Monday night is lodged in my mind. And it bumps up against today’s headlines again and again.

“The air in China is cleaner than it’s been in years,” and when China slowed economic and industrial activity that polluted the air for Olympic games, babies were born heavier and healthier. The traffic is light in Seattle, and crowds in Italy, at the Coliseum and the Vatican are small enough so that the few who are there can enjoy. You can, one commentator announced, enjoy a nice restaurant meal in Milan.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Kemmerer gives story after story of American Indians taking what they need, leaving enough to serve others and to replenish the stock of sweetgrass, Black Ash, fish, game, and strawberries. And then giving thanks for the generosity you’ve enjoyed.

We’ve grown addicted to the gospel of more, to bigger and faster. What coronavirus—mother nature’s slap back, as one friend says—is showing us is that uncontrolled growth is not healthy, that linking and interconnecting, finding the cheapest labor here and cheapest materials there to build a car or computer for me somewhere else is creating fragile networks that can collapse with a bat’s version of the flu. The stock market doesn’t know whether to go up or down; we don’t know whether to travel or not, go to work or not, go to the show, or watch the game without a courtside audience on TV.

American Indians were caught unawares with white European diseases 500 years ago. And then there were wars, treaties, boarding schools, and termination policies. But Indians have survived—incredibly, miraculously—in part because there were always elders who remembered that the first salmon goes back, the huckleberry patch gets picked in a different place each year, and that land that has sustained us forever needs us but warns us: take care of water and the fish and the plants, and never take more than you need.

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