Braiding Sweetgrass

by

Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Braiding Sweetgrass: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kimmerer describes the rain in the Oregon rainforest, and how different plants seem to receive the droplets in different ways. In these misty forests the line between water, air, and land seems blurred. Robin is exploring Lookout Creek in the Andrews Experimental Forest. As she walks along the creek, she describes the “hyporheic flow” of water that moves underground beneath the creek’s visible flow. Robin leans against a cedar tree and watches the droplets of rain fall.
Robin continues her Pacific Coast exploration in this chapter, as the Andrews Experimental Forest is located in Oregon. The hyporheic zone is the region below a streambed where water still moves through porous sediment, an example of a blurred line between where water ends and land begins.
Themes
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Robin notes that the water droplets falling from moss seem to linger and swell much longer than the droplets that fall from tree branches or from her own body. She offers no explanation for this, and wonders if it is just an illusion. Robin has been out in the rain for hours, wanting to be an active participant in the downpour—like a cedar tree—rather than dry and comfortable and disconnected from it. She does eventually get cold, though, and she tries to find the places where wildlife might go to stay dry. Eventually she comes across a fallen log that provides a roof for her, and she sits down to rest.
This brief chapter is more meditative and immediate in its description of a single day in Robin’s experience of a rainy Northwestern forest. Recognizing the animacy of all things allows her to observe how different beings react to each other in subtle ways, and also makes her empathetic to how other living things might endure these same conditions. She then seeks to emulate them, wanting to be an active participant in the democracy of species.
Themes
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Kimmerer says that “time as an objective reality has never made much sense to me. It’s what happens that matters.” She tries to imagine how a cedar perceives time as compared to a gnat or a stone. Seeking to savor the present moment, when everything “happens,” Robin continues to observe and listen to the falling rain. Watching a patch of moss, she notices a raindrop dangling from the end of one of its green filaments, which waves about like a caterpillar before connecting with another filament and transferring the droplet like a bridge of green light. She feels that what she has just seen is pure “grace.”
The way that different beings and objects might perceive time is all relative, and recognizing this is another way of placing humanity and our experience of time in a context of one part of a whole, not any more valuable or valid than others. Robin leans into the description of the present moment in this chapter, illustrating her observations poetically rather than giving scientific or historical context that would take the narrative out of the moment.
Themes
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Robin walks down by the river and decides to make an experiment to test her hypothesis that droplets form differently on different surfaces in the forest. She dries two identical strands of lichen and dips one into a pool of clear rainwater and the other in a pool stained red with the tannins from alder leaves. When she removes them, they do indeed form different droplets, with the alder water forming much larger and slower droplets than the regular rainwater. She feels pleased by this affirmation that not even the smallest phenomena are random, but that everything is “colored by relationships” between things.
Robin enjoys doing science at every level, but in the way that she has described before: as having a conversation with plants. In this passage, then, she doesn’t seek out control groups or sterilized environments (or assert the factual veracity of her findings) but just performs a small experiment with the plants as much as on them, and from it draws a lesson of the intricate connections between all things. In nature there is no sterile lab or control group, and so experiments like this one take into account a factor that pure science cannot: the animacy of all things and their relationships to each other.
Themes
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Robin stands by a still pool of water at the river’s edge, and she notes how the droplets falling from different trees into the pool are of different sizes and speeds and make different kinds of “music” when they strike the water. “Listening to rain, time disappears,” she thinks. If each moment is like a droplet from a tree into a pool, then time moves differently for different beings just as the droplets from separate trees differ. Finally, Kimmerer thinks about the very act of close observation: “Paying attention acknowledges that we have something to learn from intelligences other than our own.”
Kimmerer closes the chapter by reaffirming the importance of paying attention. True mindfulness means humbling one’s own perspective and experience and acknowledging those of others. This often results in a greater sense of respect and gratitude, and here it is also a reminder to Kimmerer of the animacy and personhood of nonhuman beings, and how we as the younger siblings of creation should be trying to learn from our brethren.
Themes
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Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon