Friday, 23 December 2016

Beauty in storytelling




I've spent the last week reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  I've actually had a pretty wonderful year when it comes to reading, and over the year I've read and re-read many different writers, but Braiding Sweetgrass left me mesmerised.  With a beautiful sense of poetry, the writer shows us the impacts of history, the wonders of the ecology, and the value of community and what it means to look out for each other.  She does this while sharing her own life story as an ecologist.  And at the same time, she challenges the dominance of western science, allowing the insights of indigenous beliefs to come to the foreground.

Bron Taylor (In The Dark Green Religion) quoted the Columbian ecologist, Ximena Arango's belief that "oppressive behaviours do not follow an understanding that everyone is part of the earth."  Robin Wall Kimmerer uses lived experiences, including clearing out a pond, or the picking of wild strawberries, to share the value of be - ing, and what it means to live in a more-than-human world.  There's the imagery of pecan trees, all producing nuts at the same time, the maple syrup moon, and the gift of strawberry shortcake, a present from both earth and children.

Certain writers create a yearning in me to write as well as they can.  Usually those writers are able to both tell a story and make me think.  I spend months longing to be able to get it right myself, and a thousand frustrated pages trying to make it happen.  All I do is baffle myself.  I'm getting to realise that I'm better at connecting the dots and sharing the story than I am at bringing that story alive.  All I can do, the majority of the time, is share my appreciation of the work I get to explore.  And express my gratitude that I get to do what I love.

After almost a year of exploring decolonised reading though, I was really sad at one of the comments made by a teenager focusing on a future university career.   The teen wondered whether decolonised education would mean lowering standards?  Western scientists wonder where (and how on earth?) some indigenous people have acquired such sophisticated knowledge.  They are told, much to their frustration and bafflement that "The plants taught us." We've only got a vague inkling of what it means to be a person in this world.

We live with a wisdom so much greater than our own, in a universe which breathes alongside us.  And this was what I loved so much about Braiding Sweetgrass. As a scientist herself, Robin Wall Kimmerer showed us how western science doesn't have the only answers.  And what it means to embrace alternate ways of knowing, so that our own beliefs can be expanded.  She does it through story telling, by embracing wonder, and by marvelling at the beauty which exists all around us.  I can't think of a more inspiring way to learn.


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