Originally posted on March 14, 2016
by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
Robin Wall Kimmerer, who contributed a piece called “Offering” to Whole Terrain’s volume 14, Celebration & Ceremony, appeared recently on the radio program On Being, produced through American Public Media. Go listen to it—it’s great! In the interview, entitled, “The Intelligence in All Kinds of Life,” Kimmerer spoke of the importance of incorporating beauty and wonder, even (or perhaps especially) as a scientist. She identifies different questions in science and in traditional ways of knowing, and encourages us to ask questions that go beyond those of Western science, with its emphasis on naming and categorizing as an end rather than a beginning point. Questions of beauty and wonder allow us to get beyond our assumption that we “know” something because we can say its name. These deeper questions encourage us to develop a relationship to natural entities, something that is difficult to do from a Western mind frame. Her work melds her Potawatomi heritage and her Western training into beautiful and informative environmental writing. A plant ecologist with a focus on bryology (study of moss), Kimmerer teaches at the State University of New York in the Environmental Science and Forestry Department, and is the founding director for the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. Her books include Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (2003) and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013). She writes in an engaging, narrative style that teaches the reader a good deal of scientific knowledge as well as inviting the reader into traditional ways of knowing and understanding the world.