Braiding Sweetgrass

by

Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Robin Wall Kimmerer Character Analysis

As Braiding Sweetgrass is part memoir, author Robin Wall Kimmerer is often a character in her own book. Growing up in upstate New York, she is very close to the land itself, feeling like she is partly raised by the plants around her, especially the wild strawberries and her “grandmother Sitka Spruce.” Along with these formative experiences in nature, she also learns of her own Potawatomi heritage from her parents, informing her view of the world as a place of gifts, responsibilities, and reciprocity. Robin goes on to study botany in college, receive a master’s degree and PhD, and teach classes at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She has two daughters, Linden and Larkin, but is abandoned by her partner at some point in the girls’ childhood and mostly must raise them as a single mother. Robin seeks to integrate ecological science with Indigenous wisdom and knowledge, while recognizing that this is an extremely difficult task—both because few others have attempted it, and because of the complicated and traumatic history between the colonized and the colonizers and their respective methods of knowing. Robin also struggles with how best to fulfill her roles of mother and teacher, exploring different ways to pass on her experience to her students within an academic setting that discourages anything beyond rigorous scientific objectivity. Overall, Robin presents herself as a constant work in progress, forever surprised and awed by the world around her but also doing her best to repair people’s relationships to the land itself and hoping for a future beyond our current systems of exploitation and isolation.

Robin Wall Kimmerer Quotes in Braiding Sweetgrass

The Braiding Sweetgrass quotes below are all either spoken by Robin Wall Kimmerer or refer to Robin Wall Kimmerer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1 Quotes

One story leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banishment. One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good green world that would be the home of her descendants. The other was an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.

And then they met—the offspring of Skywoman and the children of Eve—and the land around us bears the scars of that meeting, the echoes of our stories.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Skywoman
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

It’s funny how the nature of an object—let’s say a strawberry or a pair of socks—is so changed by the way it has come into your hands, as a gift or as a commodity. The pair of wool socks that I buy at the store, red and gray striped, are warm and cozy. I might feel grateful for the sheep that made the wool and the worker who ran the knitting machine. I hope so. But I have no inherent obligation to those socks as a commodity, as private property. […] But what if those very same socks, red and gray striped, were knitted by my grandmother and given to me as a gift? That changes everything. A gift creates ongoing relationship.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

For the greater part of human history, and in places in the world today, common resources were the rule. But some invented a different story, a social construct in which everything is a commodity to be bought and sold. The market economy story has spread like wildfire, with uneven results for human well-being and devastation for the natural world. But it is just a story we have told ourselves and we are free to tell another, to reclaim the old one.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

The arrogance of English is that the only way to be animate, to be worthy of respect and moral concern, is to be human.

A language teacher I know explained that grammar is just the way we chart relationships in language. Maybe it also reflects our relationships with each other. Maybe a grammar of animacy could lead us to whole new ways of living in the world, other species a sovereign people, a world with a democracy of species, not a tyranny of one—with moral responsibility to water and wolves, and with a legal system that recognizes the standing of other species.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

What I do here matters. Everybody lives downstream. My pond drains to the brook, to the creek, to a great and needful lake. The water net connects us all. I have shed tears into that flow when I thought that motherhood would end. But the pond has shown me that being a good mother doesn’t end with creating a home where just my children can flourish. A good mother grows into a richly eutrophic old woman, knowing that her work doesn’t end until she creates a home where all of life’s beings can flourish. There are grandchildren to nurture, and frog children, nestlings, goslings, seedlings, and spores, and I still want to be a good mother.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Linden, Larkin
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

As I grew to understand the gifts of the earth, I couldn’t understand how “love of country” could omit recognition of the actual country itself. The only promise it requires is to a flag. What of the promises to each other and to the land?

What would it be like to be raised on gratitude, to speak to the natural world as a member of the democracy of species, to raise a pledge of interdependence?

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

People often ask me what one thing I would recommend to restore relationship between land and people. My answer is almost always, “Plant a garden.” It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of people. A garden is a nursery for nurturing connection, the soil for cultivation of practical reverence. And its power goes far beyond the garden gate—once you develop a relationship with a little patch of earth, it becomes a seed itself.

Something essential happens in a vegetable garden. It’s a place where if you can’t say “I love you” out loud, you can say it in seeds. And the land will reciprocate, in beans.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 126-127
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

It’s tempting to imagine that these three are deliberate in working together, and perhaps they are. But the beauty of the partnership is that each plant does what it does in order to increase its own growth. But as it happens, when the individuals flourish, so does the whole.

The way of the Three Sisters reminds me of one of the basic teachings of our people. The most important thing each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world. Individuality is cherished and nurtured, because, in order for the whole to flourish, each of us has to be strong in who we are and carry our gifts with conviction, so they can be shared with others.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

The Three Sisters offer us a new metaphor for an emerging relationship between Indigenous knowledge and Western science, both of which are rooted in the earth. I think of the corn as traditional ecological knowledge, the physical and spiritual framework that can guide the curious bean of science, which twines like a double helix. The squash creates the ethical habitat for coexistence and mutual flourishing. I envision a time when the intellectual monoculture of science will be replaced with a polyculture of complementary knowledges. And so all may be fed.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

What would it be like, I wondered, to live with that heightened sensitivity to the lives given for ours? To consider the tree in the Kleenex, the algae in the toothpaste, the oaks in the floor, the grapes in the wine; to follow back the thread of life in everything and pay it respect? Once you start, it’s hard to stop, and you begin to feel yourself awash in gifts.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), John Pigeon
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

To me, an experiment is a kind of conversation with plants: I have a question for them, but since we don’t speak the same language, I can’t ask them directly and they won’t answer verbally. But plants can be eloquent in their physical responses and behaviors. Plants answer questions by the way they live, by their responses to change; you just need to learn how to ask. I smile when I hear my colleagues say “I discovered X.” That’s kind of like Columbus claiming to have discovered America. It was here all along, it’s just that he didn’t know it. Experiments are not about discovery but about listening and translating the knowledge of other beings.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sweetgrass
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

The scientists gave Laurie a warm round of applause. She had spoken their language and made a convincing case for the stimulatory effect of harvesters, indeed for the reciprocity between harvesters and sweetgrass. One even retracted his initial criticism that this research would “add nothing new to science.” The basket makers who sat at the table simply nodded their heads in agreement. Wasn’t this just as the elders have said?

The question was, how do we show respect? Sweetgrass told us the answer as we experimented: sustainable harvesting can be the way we treat a plant with respect, by respectfully receiving its gift.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Laurie
Related Symbols: Sweetgrass
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

Cautionary stories of the consequences of taking too much are ubiquitous in Native cultures, but it’s hard to recall a single one in English. Perhaps this helps to explain why we seem to be caught in a trap of overconsumption, which is as destructive to ourselves as to those we consume.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Nanabozho
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

The state guidelines on hunting and gathering are based exclusively in the biophysical realm, while the rules of the Honorable Harvest are based on accountability to both the physical and the metaphysical world. The taking of another life to support your own is far more significant when you recognize the beings who are harvested as persons, nonhuman persons vested with awareness, intelligence, spirit—and who have families waiting for them at home. Killing a who demands something different than killing an it.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

“In my grandmother’s house we were taught to kiss the rice. If a single grain fell to the ground, we learned to pick it up and kiss it, to show we meant no disrespect in wasting it.” The student told me that, when she came to the United States, the greatest culture shock she experienced was not language or food or technology, but waste. […] I thanked her for her story and she said, “Please, take it as a gift, and give it to someone else.”

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

We need the Honorable Harvest today. But like the leeks and the marten, it is an endangered species that arose in another landscape, another time, from a legacy of traditional knowledge. That ethic of reciprocity was cleared away along with the forests, the beauty of justice traded away for more stuff. We’ve created a cultural and economic landscape that is hospitable to the growth of neither leeks nor honor. If the earth is nothing more than inanimate matter, if lives are nothing more than commodities, then the way of the Honorable Harvest, too, is dead. But when you stand in the stirring spring woods, you know otherwise.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 200-201
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Had the new people learned what Original Man was taught at a council of animals—never damage Creation, and never interfere with the sacred purpose of another being—the eagle would look down on a different world. The salmon would be crowding up the rivers, and passenger pigeons would darken the sky. […] I would be speaking Potawatomi. We would see what Nanabozho saw. It does not bear too much imagining, for in that direction lies heartbreak.

Against the backdrop of that history, an invitation to settler society to become Indigenous to place feels like a free ticket to a housebreaking party. It could be read as an open invitation to take what little is left. Can settlers be trusted to follow Nanabozho, to walk so that “each step is a greeting to Mother Earth”?

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Nanabozho
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Maybe the task assigned to Second Man is to unlearn the model of kudzu and follow the teachings of White Man’s Footstep, to strive to become naturalized to place, to throw off the mind-set of the immigrant. Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit. […] Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Nanabozho
Page Number: 214-215
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

As an enthusiastic young PhD, colonized by the arrogance of science, I had been fooling myself that I was the only teacher. The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart. My job was just to lead them into the presence and ready them to hear.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

So, were we to act ethically, don’t we have to somehow compensate the plants for what we received?

[…] The students ramble and laugh as we work and weave, but come up with a long list of suggestions. Brad proposes a permit system in which we do pay for what we take, a fee to the state that goes to support wetland protection. […] They also suggest defensive strategies. […] To go to a town planning board meeting and speak up for wetland preservation. To vote. Natalie promises to get a rain barrel at her apartment, to reduce water pollution. […] I thought they would have no answer, but I was humbled by their creativity. The gifts they might return to cattails are as diverse as those the cattails gave them. This is our work, to discover what we can give.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Brad
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:

As I listen to them, I hear another whisper from the swaying stand of cattails, from spruce boughs in the wind, a reminder that caring is not abstract. The circle of ecological compassion we feel is enlarged by direct experience of the living world, and shrunken by its lack.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 239
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

The First Salmon ceremonies […] were for the Salmon themselves, and for all the glittering realms of Creation, for the renewal of the world. People understood that when lives are given on their behalf they have received something precious. Ceremonies are a way to give something precious in return.

When the season turns and the grasses dry on the headland, preparations begin; […] With waders and boats, the biologists are on the river to dip nets into the restored channels of the estuary, to take its pulse. […] And still the salmon do not come. So the waiting scientists roll out their sleeping bags and turn off the lab equipment. All but one. A single microscope light is left on.

Out beyond the surf they gather, tasting the waters of home. They see it against the dark of the headland. Someone has left a light on, blazing a tiny beacon into the night, calling the salmon back home.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

Only with severe need did the hyphae curl around the alga; only when the alga was stressed did it welcome the advances.

When times are easy and there’s plenty to go around, individual species can go it alone. But when conditions are harsh and life is tenuous, it takes a team sworn to reciprocity to keep life going forward. In a world of scarcity, interconnection and mutual aid become critical for survival. So say the lichens.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

Cautionary Windigo tales arose in a commons-based society where sharing was essential to survival and greed made any individual a danger to the whole. In the old times, individuals who endangered the community by taking too much for themselves were first counseled, then ostracized, and if the greed continued, they were eventually banished. The Windigo myth may have arisen from the remembrance of the banished, doomed to wander hungry and alone, wreaking vengeance on the ones who spurned them. It is a terrible punishment to be banished from the web of reciprocity, with no one to share with you and no one for you to care for.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windigo
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27 Quotes

Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair. Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into positive, creative relationship with the more-than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual. It’s not enough to grieve. It’s not enough to just stop doing bad things.

We have enjoyed the feast generously laid out for us by Mother Earth, but now the plates are empty and dining room is a mess. It’s time we started doing the dishes in Mother Earth’s kitchen.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Onondaga Lake
Page Number: 328
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 29 Quotes

Being with salamanders gives honor to otherness, offers an antidote to the poison of xenophobia. Each time we rescue slippery, spotted beings we attest to their right to be, to live in the sovereign territory of their own lives.

Carrying salamanders to safety also helps us to remember the covenant of reciprocity, the mutual responsibility that we have for each other. As the perpetrators of the war zone on this road, are we not bound to heal the wounds that we inflict?

The news makes me feel powerless. I can’t stop bombs from falling and I can’t stop cars from speeding down this road. It is beyond my power. But I can pick up salamanders. For one night I want to clear my name.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Linden, Larkin
Page Number: 358-359
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 31 Quotes

The market system artificially creates scarcity by blocking the flow between the source and the consumer. Grain may rot in the warehouse while hungry people starve because they cannot pay for it. The result is famine for some and diseases of excess for others. The very earth that sustains us is being destroyed to fuel injustice. An economy that grants personhood to corporations but denies it to the more-than-human beings: this is a Windigo economy.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windigo
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

Each of us comes from people who were once Indigenous. We can reclaim our membership in the cultures of gratitude that formed our old relationships with the living earth. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to Windigo psychosis. A deep awareness of the gifts of the earth and of each other is medicine. The practice of gratitude lets us hear the badgering of marketers as the stomach grumblings of a Windigo. It celebrates cultures of regenerative reciprocity, where wealth is understood to be having enough to share and riches are counted in mutually beneficial relationships. Besides, it makes us happy.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Windigo
Page Number: 377
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. Imagine the books, the paintings, the poems, the clever machines, the compassionate acts, the transcendent ideas, the perfect tools. The fierce defense of all that has been given. Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.

In return for the privilege of breath.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker)
Page Number: 384
Explanation and Analysis:
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Robin Wall Kimmerer Character Timeline in Braiding Sweetgrass

The timeline below shows where the character Robin Wall Kimmerer appears in Braiding Sweetgrass. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface
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Robin Kimmerer invites the reader to accept from her a sheaf of sweetgrass. She gives its... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...Day, her mother would bake her father a strawberry shortcake with wild strawberries picked by Robin and her siblings: another gift that couldn’t be bought. (full context)
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...establish a relationship and sense of responsibility between the giver and receiver. As a child, Robin would instinctively pull up weeds around the strawberry patches, and in response, new plants would... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...after this offering does he pour coffee for himself and his wife. As a child, Robin doesn’t question this small ritual and feels like it is an important way to begin... (full context)
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As she grows older, Robin becomes frustrated by the coffee ritual, feeling like it is a “secondhand ceremony” made by... (full context)
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Once, as an adult, Robin asks her father how his offering originated. At first he just says that “it seemed... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...at the natural world. When her adviser asks her why she wants to pursue botany, Robin tells him about her lifelong love of plants, and that she wants “to learn about... (full context)
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...her entire way of life was wrong and should be discarded. The botany that young Robin learns in school is entirely detached from any kind of emotion or connection between humans... (full context)
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Robin goes on to get a master’s degree, a Ph.D., and a teaching job. She starts... (full context)
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Soon after this Robin attends a gathering of Indigenous elders who are talking about plants. Hearing their stories and... (full context)
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Inspired by this, Robin returns to ideas of beauty that she had ignored for years because of her science... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Robin sits leaning against a pine tree, listening to the sounds of the forest. Hearing the... (full context)
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At a yearly tribal gathering one year, Robin decides to attend a class on the Potawatomi language. Every single fluent speaker in the... (full context)
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After the class, Robin covers her house with yellow sticky notes containing Potawatomi words and phrases. She practices her... (full context)
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As she considers giving up her project, Robin imagines the ghosts of the boarding school missionaries gleefully observing her failure. Suddenly she has... (full context)
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...and we might also feel less lonely as a species. In her own life now, Robin tries to keep this idea in mind, greeting the animals and plants each day as... (full context)
Chapter 7
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When her daughters Linden and Larkin are still young, Robin moves with them to Fabius, New York, to an old farmhouse in a yard full... (full context)
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Robin, Linden, and Larkin eagerly await the coming of spring, when the sap begins to flow.... (full context)
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That night Robin collects the sap from the buckets—a huge amount—and sets it to boil over a campfire... (full context)
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Robin stays up for many nights tending the fire and boiling down the sap. The trees... (full context)
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Returning to her memories of sitting by the fire boiling Maple sap, Robin notices that two of the Maples seem exactly the same size, growing symmetrically on either... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Linden first meets Hazel while she and her mother Robin are looking for wild blackberries, soon after they have moved to Kentucky. Hazel is a... (full context)
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Linden describes how her mother Robin finds great joy in household tasks like splitting wood, sometimes saying that she was “born... (full context)
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...years, ever since Sam had a heart attack and she came to live with him. Robin relates to Hazel’s feelings of longing for home, as she herself has recently been “transplanted”... (full context)
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After this initial visit, Hazel often calls Robin on Sundays and asks to go visit the house. Linden and her younger sister Larkin... (full context)
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...visit her old house for one last Christmas. Linden’s family isn’t traveling to be with Robin’s mother and father as they normally would at Christmas, and Robin is already feeling sad... (full context)
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On the day of the Christmas party, Linden and Larkin welcome the guests while Robin goes to pick up Hazel. Hazel beams as she steps out of the car and... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...of Linden and Larkin alone. The three then moved back to upstate New York, where Robin looks for a new house and, wanting to be a good mother, tries to meet... (full context)
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As the ice melts, Robin realizes that the supposed “trout pond”—which some of the neighbors say that people used to... (full context)
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...pond is greener than ever. A family of Canada geese move in, and one day Robin sees one of the chicks actually walking on the surface of the water because the... (full context)
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Robin thus decides to alter the pond’s natural process and to clear it for her girls... (full context)
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Going forward with her project, Robin must schedule her “pond restoration hours” in between her regular work and all the duties... (full context)
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One day Robin notices a large bullfrog tadpole struggling in the mass of algae that she has just... (full context)
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Because the loads of wet algae are so heavy to haul away, Robin begins leaving them for a few days to dry and bleach in the sun before... (full context)
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This incident makes Robin muse again on the casualties produced by any kind of habitat manipulation, no matter how... (full context)
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Robin lets the pond settle for a week, and at first it looks better, but soon... (full context)
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One day Robin finds a new kind of algae in the pond, a fine mesh of green lace... (full context)
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Years pass as Robin continues to work at restoring the pond whenever she has a free weekend day. Linden... (full context)
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Robin muses on the apple tree beside the pond, who acts as a “good mother” sending... (full context)
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On the last day of summer vacation, the last summer with Larkin at home, Robin watches the apples floating on the surface of the pond. Musing on motherhood, she references... (full context)
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Robin imagines her grandchildren swimming in the pond, but also the “water net” connecting every living... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Robin’s eldest daughter Linden goes off to college in California, “long before the pond was ready... (full context)
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When Larkin gets ready to leave for college, she and Robin go camping by the pond one last time. Looking around, Larkin thanks her mother “for... (full context)
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Robin tells the reader that she isn’t returning directly home, however, as she can’t handle facing... (full context)
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...large rhizome (an underground stem) at the bottom of the lake. The yellow flowers surround Robin as she paddles, giving off a slight alcoholic scent. Robin paddles beyond the lilies and... (full context)
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When Robin finally opens her eyes, she finds herself once again surrounded by water lilies. Kimmerer then... (full context)
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Returning home in the late evening, Robin sees a pile of presents on her front porch. At first she assumes that there... (full context)
Chapter 11
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One day when Robin’s daughters are still young and living at home, one of their teachers calls to say... (full context)
Chapter 12
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One day Robin is out in her garden, picking beans. She sees the remnants of her daughters’ harvesting... (full context)
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Robin thinks about how she shows her love for her daughters: by giving them gifts and... (full context)
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...her daughter Linden calls her to talk while she works in the garden. One day Robin asks her if she feels like her garden loves her just as she loves it,... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Now Robin begins the same class in a garden, studying the Three Sisters in person. One of... (full context)
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In August, Robin holds a Three Sisters potluck for her friends and family. Everyone brings traditional dishes made... (full context)
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Eating dessert at the potluck, Robin observes some nearby fields of corn, all planted in straight rows for maximum efficiency and... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...from the same tree, and they are all beautiful. At the powwow later that night, Robin notices how the dancers move together as if weaving a basket with their bodies. (full context)
Chapter 15
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Laurie remains calm and defends herself, but later she bursts into tears. Robin remembers doing the same thing herself, thinking back to all the condescension she has endured... (full context)
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Robin and Laurie wonder if the current decline in sweetgrass populations is the result of underharvesting,... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...syrup is harvested—and also tax season, so people at the gas station discuss both topics. Robin listens to a local man banter with his former teacher, complaining about taxes. The teacher,... (full context)
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Robin’s parents are involved in their own local town government, so she is familiar with the... (full context)
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Robin arrives at the “sugar house,” where the workers are making fresh maple syrup, boiling the... (full context)
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...currency in Maple Nation, passed cyclically through the community of trees, people, animals, and atmosphere. Robin asks her citizenship question to a third man, who thinks a while and then answers... (full context)
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Robin joins one of the workers as he goes to fetch more sap, and as they... (full context)
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Driving home, Robin thinks about the American Bill of Rights, but imagines that the maples abide by a... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Robin walks through a field, noting that years of herbicides and monocrops of corn have left... (full context)
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The first leeks that Robin gently removes are underdeveloped, so she puts them back in the ground to keep growing.... (full context)
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A few weeks later Robin visits the forest again, noting that the leeks are much larger this time. Once more... (full context)
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Back in her current narrative, Robin walks home with a basketful of leeks for dinner, thinking of a story an herbalist... (full context)
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On an October day, Robin sits talking with some local Indigenous hunters during hunting season. An elder describes his own... (full context)
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Robin describes giving a lecture called “Cultures of Gratitude” at an expensive college. At one point... (full context)
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 One girl approaches Robin at the reception, however, to say that she understands and appreciated her lecture. The girl... (full context)
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Robin describes her interview with Lionel, a fur trapper with Indigenous heritage from the woods of... (full context)
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Robin is surprised by the tenderness in Lionel’s voice as he talks about the martens. He... (full context)
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Recognizing how dishonorable much of her lifestyle is, Robin decides to try an experiment: to live in her current capitalist economy and still attempt... (full context)
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Robin then goes to the mall to buy writing supplies. Unlike at the grocery store, everything... (full context)
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Afterward, Robin gets a cup of coffee and observes people in the mall’s food court. She realizes... (full context)
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...now with her daughters Linden and Larkin, they clean and cook the wild leeks that Robin gathered, first setting aside an unwashed pile of leeks. After dinner, Robin goes out to... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Robin is now on the West Coast, a part of the country where she has never... (full context)
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...environment of the West Coast, and for comfort she sought out her “Sitka Spruce grandmother.” Robin makes an offering and sits down among her roots, waiting for the tree to introduce... (full context)
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Returning to her exploration of her own new West Coast environment, Robin tries to turn off her “science mind” and turn on her “Nanabozho mind,” greeting the... (full context)
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Robin now stands on a cliff by the sea, observing the landscape and imagining how things... (full context)
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Sitting again under the Sitka Spruce “grandmother,” Robin recognizes that she is a stranger here on the West Coast, but she also feels... (full context)
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As she walks along a trail, Robin notices a familiar plant: the common plantain, also known as White Man’s Footstep. This plant... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...no interest in ecology; they mostly just see her class as a requirement for graduation. Robin can’t understand how someone could be a biologist and be so uninterested in the rich... (full context)
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Robin plans meticulously for the outing, knowing that she is under a large amount of scrutiny... (full context)
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Having received permission from the dean, Robin takes her students out into the beautiful Smoky Mountains, noting the contrast between the land’s... (full context)
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After a few days of this, Robin and the class come to a cold strip of spruce and fir tree habitat, which... (full context)
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On the last day of the trip, Robin and the students hike back to the parking lot through a beautiful grove of silverbells.... (full context)
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...one student starts singing “Amazing Grace,” and soon they all join in and sing together. Robin feels humbled, like her students are offering a gift of love and gratitude in their... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Robin is now leading another student expedition into the wilderness, this time back in New York... (full context)
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...together and practicing their memorization of the Latin names for things. At the same time, Robin notices that their preoccupation with Latin names makes them pay less attention to the named... (full context)
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To teach this lesson, Robin first encourages the students to brainstorm a list of their basic needs. On the rest... (full context)
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The following day Robin and her students go “shopping” in the cattail marsh. The students love wetlands in theory,... (full context)
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After a few days of weaving cattail mats for the wigwam’s floor and walls, Robin takes the students to harvest the roots of white spruce, which can be used to... (full context)
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By now the students are used to Robin’s Honorable Harvest ritual of greeting the plant, asking its permission to be harvested, and leaving... (full context)
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Amid the tangle of life in the forest soil Robin finds a spruce root and gently pulls on it, following where it leads. The root... (full context)
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Robin listens to her students work, knowing that they, like her, are pursuing the complex thread... (full context)
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...“promotes bonding between mother and child.” Essentially, being close to Mother Earth makes us happier. Robin remembers the first time that she dug for roots like this and how transformative it... (full context)
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...harvest and swap stories about interesting things that they found while following the roots’ paths. Robin next shows them how to clean the Spruce roots by soaking them in the stream... (full context)
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Robin tells her students about the time that a Mohawk elder once joined them as they... (full context)
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...so much from the land without paying anything back besides gratitude and a tobacco offering. Robin explains that different people have different answers about the right way to give back as... (full context)
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...comes with a responsibility to give something back—it’s a moral debt, not a legal one. Robin is overjoyed to hear them talking about this, contrasting them with the average contemporary shopper... (full context)
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...meetings, and making cattail coasters to give as gifts to loved ones. As she listens, Robin is reminded that “caring is not abstract”—it requires real, tangible action. She also knows that... (full context)
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...Around the fire that night, the students perform a song that they’ve made up for Robin about their adventure, ending with “no matter where I roam, when I’m with plants I’ll... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Robin herself now walks up the path to that same headland, observing the lush forest and... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Back in her own present, Robin is planting sweetgrass with one of her graduate students as well as a Mohawk basket... (full context)
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Robin’s friend Sakokwenionkwas, a Mohawk elder whose English name is Tom Porter, began a return to... (full context)
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...the Mohawk valley as a way of recreating a flourishing home that sustains its people. Robin stops by Tom Porter’s home one morning to discuss this idea as he prepares her... (full context)
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Still speaking of the Thanksgiving Address, Robin asks Tom how he imagines that the land says thank you to humans. In response,... (full context)
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Tom’s daughter joins their game and shows Robin some beautiful quartz crystals called Herkimer diamonds that she has gathered over the years on... (full context)
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Tom supports Robin’s idea of bringing back sweetgrass that can eventually form a meadow for basket makers to... (full context)
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At her university, however, Robin has already begun growing sweetgrass in nursery beds. To find these plants she had to... (full context)
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...was never taught about the importance of sweetgrass. Back at Tom Porter’s house, he shows Robin a book containing the names of all those who attended Carlisle from 1879 to 1918.... (full context)
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...attic. Asa did achieve what Carlisle taught him to want—a version of the American Dream—but Robin also grieves for her own childhood and what could have been if her grandfather hadn’t... (full context)
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...inviting descendants of the stolen Indigenous children to return for “ceremonies of remembrance and reconciliation.” Robin attends along with other members of her family and hundreds of others, most of whom... (full context)
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...so many lost children are buried. There they burn sage and sweetgrass, drum, and pray. Robin thinks about the different ways to react to such grief and loss—with destruction or creation,... (full context)
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...the people and animals in the story of the peach pits and Skywoman’s grandsons. Suddenly Robin’s trowel strikes something hard in the soil. She cleans it off and sees that it... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Again in the Adirondacks, Robin explores a lakeside forest and examines a massive granite boulder that is entirely covered in... (full context)
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...by the rain, when it swells and turns green, forming dimples like a belly button. Robin examines the lichen on the boulder and thinks about how these ancient life forms are... (full context)
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...ferns can grow, thus laying the foundation for new life when its own life flourishes. Robin observes a rock face covered in Umbilicaria which is also surrounded by various algae and... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Robin hikes into an old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest, where she stops and is awed... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...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,... (full context)
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Robin notes that the water droplets falling from moss seem to linger and swell much longer... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Robin walks down by the river and decides to make an experiment to test her hypothesis... (full context)
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Robin stands by a still pool of water at the river’s edge, and she notes how... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...New York, which was once Onondaga land and part of the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Confederacy. Robin drinks from a cool, clear spring whose water has been filtered by natural limestone. She... (full context)
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Robin now describes her own experience with Onondaga Lake: she knew nothing of its history until... (full context)
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Robin turns a corner and faces what initially seems to be the scene of a gruesome... (full context)
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...that when the grass eventually sprouted, it spelled out the word HELP—the same sign that Robin herself had seen as a student. This one-word message was apt, she thinks, as Onondaga... (full context)
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...describes the plants that have gradually taken root along the wounded shores of Onondaga Lake. Robin digs into the soil where these plants have survived and sees that it is slowly... (full context)
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...who lived there with the Peacemaker. Some new plant communities are thriving here, however, and Robin goes to visit them with a fellow professor and his students, who have been testing... (full context)
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As she observes the students working among their plants, however, Robin feels that something is missing in this tableau as well. Everyone speaks of data and... (full context)
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Robin recalls going on a date when she was a college student in Syracuse; she asked... (full context)
Chapter 29
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The chapter opens with a brief scene: Robin is doing something by flashlight on a country road one rainy night, and a car... (full context)
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The narrative shifts to a few hours earlier, as Robin prepares some pea soup in the rainy evening. The news on the television shows bombs... (full context)
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As bombs fall on Iraq, the rain falls on the forest outside Robin’s house. She imagines the spotted salamanders, who have been hibernating for six months, hearing the... (full context)
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Robin walks down the empty road with her flashlight, observing the frogs that quickly hop across... (full context)
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The year before, Robin had taken one of her daughters to follow the salamanders on their migration and see... (full context)
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...“glistening being following magnetic trails toward love is reduced to red pulp on the pavement.” Robin and her daughters work to save as many as they can, but they can only... (full context)
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Robin and her daughters pause in their work to eat some of the soup that they’ve... (full context)
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The newcomers are a group of herpetology students from SUNY, and Robin feels embarrassed about her automatic assumption that they were troublemakers. The class is studying the... (full context)
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...observers they cannot disrupt their experiment by actually saving any of the animals from death. Robin and her daughters’ work has also biased the experiment, decreasing the number of salamanders that... (full context)
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...when he knows the salamanders are moving, and he comes out to rescue them like Robin is doing. Kimmerer then paraphrases Aldo Leopold, saying that “naturalists live in a world of... (full context)
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...midnight the road is empty of cars and the salamanders can cross in peace, so Robin and her daughters head home. Robin listens to the news as she drives, hearing more... (full context)
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...so it is also up to human beings to heal the wounds of that war. Robin feels powerless listening to the news about the Iraq War, but she feels that she... (full context)
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When she arrives home, Robin listens to the calls of the frogs and imagines them crying out in grief, telling... (full context)
Chapter 30
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When she was young, Robin’s father taught Robin and her siblings to light a fire using only one match. This... (full context)
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Potawatomi means “People of the Fire,” and so it seemed especially important to Robin and her family that they master and share this skill. In the present, Robin works... (full context)
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Robin’s father emphasizes that it’s important for people to be involved in nature, that we have... (full context)
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Robin’s father continues his lesson. The third type of fire, he says, is the Sacred Fire,... (full context)
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On this night, Robin and her young daughters (Larkin is still a baby at this point) are awakened by... (full context)
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...on the angle and motion of both these plants and the person working with them. Robin then describes her own struggle to achieve the necessary harmony of “knowledge, body, mind, and... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Robin knows that all the other plants that depended on the maples will soon die out,... (full context)
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Kimmerer returns to the italicized story of her personal experience. Surrounded by the clear-cut forest, Robin throws herself to the ground in grief. She feels powerless against the Windigo, having only... (full context)
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Over the next few months, Robin gathers plants to make a medicine to defeat the Windigo. She starts with buckthorn, a... (full context)
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The previous night Robin had friends over to share food and laughter, but tonight she is alone in the... (full context)
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Robin opens the door and faces the Windigo: a tall, icy monster with red eyes and... (full context)
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Robin runs inside and fetches her other tea. The Windigo is repulsed by its smell, so... (full context)
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...cup is still full and the Windigo looks satisfied after just that one sip, but Robin knows that there is another necessary ingredient to her medicine. She sits down beside the... (full context)
Epilogue
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It is summer, called niibin or “the time of plenty” in Potawatomi, and Robin is picking raspberries. When she sees a blue jay and a turtle also eating the... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...to you again. […] We dance in a circle, not a line.” After the dance, Robin watches a little boy cast aside his chosen gift of a toy truck. The boy’s... (full context)