Robin Wall Kimmerer has been a botanist since childhood, when she explored the woods and fields around her upstate New York home. Having earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in botany and plant ecology, she has since been trained to ask questions of nature using the tools of science.
Kimmerer is a mother, scientist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She lives in Syracuse, New York, where she is a SUNY distinguished teaching professor of environmental biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.
As the Wilkinson Public Library’s (WPL) One Book, One Canyon author for 2019, Kimmerer, who wrote book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” will lead a writing workshop at the library Monday in celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day from 1:30-3:30 p.m. The first writing workshop of its kind for One Book, One Canyon is free and open to all but is limited to 20 people. Advance registration is required at telluridelibrary.org.
“This is an incredible chance to learn something about the craft of writing from someone who has clearly mastered it and pierced the hearts of thousands of readers with her words,” said Laura Colbert, library community relations specialist.
The workshop will be followed by a book talk and signing at 6 p.m., which Colbert expects to be packed, given that over 200 free copies of Kimmerer’s book were distributed by the library.
In her works and studies, Kimmerer posits a central notion: The awakening of ecological consciousness requires acknowledgment of mankind’s reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. When human beings hear the languages of other beings, they are then capable of understanding the generosity of the earth and may give gifts in return.
“I have long been a student of plants, learning from them by close observation in the field, by watching their ways of being, from direct interactions and relationships,” Kimmerer explained. “I have also had the great privilege of learning from indigenous plant knowledge holders who have shared their teachings.”
As a scientist, Kimmerer asks questions of nature, plants and other living beings to better understand how the living world works and how people might better care for and sustain it.
“I use multiple ways of knowing to try and understand the living world, using the tools of Western science, as well as the tools of traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous science,” she added. “I try to learn from the plants, not just about them.”
She contends that plants and animals are the oldest teachers, and points to mosses among the oldest beings on Earth as an example of persistence and resilience.
“They align themselves with natural processes by giving more than they take; by fostering biodiversity, purifying water and air, building soil and making beauty — all while being small,” she observed. “We could take a lesson from them.”
Kimmerer said the major difference between scientific botany and her indigenous background is centered on whether plants and other beings are understood as "objects" — part of a living machine in Western science — or as "subjects" with their own ways of being, their own knowledge and responsibilities, in the indigenous worldview.
“Western science privileges the intellect as the sole way of valid knowledge, whereas indigenous knowledge engages the intellect plus emotion, spirit and body,” Kimmerer said.
Colbert said that anticipation around Kimmerer’s book talk and signing is unrivaled.
“She speaks to a topic that is of great interest to a lot of people in our community: our connection to and dependence on nature, especially plants,” she said.
Wilkinson Public Library launched the region’s first community One Book, One Canyon program in 2017 to encourage reading for pleasure and to foster a book-based community conversation. The 2017 book was “The Distance Between Us” by Reyna Grande, while the 2018 book was “The Newcomers” by Helen Thorpe.
“We want to give as many people as we can an opportunity to start a conversation with someone in line at the post office or at a party that's about something other than the weather,” Colbert said.
One Book, One Canyon is made possible by the financial support of Friends of the Library and the Telluride Institute, a new partner this year, which hosts Indigenous Peoples Weekend.