this is not a review: ‘braiding sweetgrass’, by robin wall kimmerer

 
 
Oh nuts. Time has whipped by and my inter-library (thank you, *Trent Hills!) copy of Braiding Sweetgrass  is due back before I’ve had the chance to read more than a few of its essays.

This is down to a couple of things. The stacks of books and papers in my house being the only one worth mentioning. (Tho’ if you must know, the other is an obsession with watching taped episodes of Escape to the Country, which occasionally cuts into my extracurricular reading time.)

In any case.

I did read enough to know that I’m not troubled by having to give it back because I’ve decided I need my own copy of the book. In the same way and for many of the same but also different reasons that I needed my own copy of Theresa Kishkan’s beautiful Mnemonic…  a memoir through the memory of trees and, often, the houses and lives surrounded by them, not all of them her own — “All my life, I have wondered at the feeling I have in particular houses, usually ones in which no one lives any longer.”

And Peter Wohlleben’s The  Hidden Life of Trees , which I read in a Kawartha forest cabin and then wandered among the birch and spruce in a whole new way, alert and hopeful for a sense of the conversations I now realized were going on all around me.

And The Sweetness of a Simple Life, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, one of those tiny eye/mind openers that change your world in the very best way. Every bit of clover in my yard is because of her.

So, yes, I’m looking forward to adding Braiding Sweetgrass  to that particular shelf and to continue reading Kimmerer’s gorgeous essays on nature. Here’s just a wee slice from ‘Asters and Goldenrod’ where she writes about the reason she chose to study botany in the first place… a moment from her intake interview at college:

“How could I answer, how could I tell him that I was a born botanist, that I had shoe boxes of seeds and piles of pressed leaves under my  bed, that I’d stop my bike along the road to identify a new species, that plants colored  my dreams, that the plants had chosen me? So I told him the truth. I was proud of my well-planned answer, its freshman sophistication apparent to anyone, the way it showed that I already knew some plants and their habitats, that I had thought deeply about their nature and was clearly well prepared for college work. I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together.”

Kimmerer is my kind of guide through the natural world because she doesn’t see a difference between it and us. (Spoiler alert: she gets into botany school and learns the science, but never, thankfully, unlearns her innate connection and unique eye/heart/spirit for what is real.)

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* That Trent Hills Library happens to be in Campbellford, a place I only discovered and fell into great affection with last year (they have a Stedmans!), is the kind of scrumptious serendipity that makes my heart sing. Also, I love the inter-library system.

 

how to do campbellford in twenty four hours

 

Start in Oshawa. At the RMG. Give the current exhibition of abstract paintings too little of your time and make a note to go back when it’s the only item on your itinerary.

Take Hwy 2 to Bowmanville and stop at the VAC. Be delighted to find Frances Ferdinands’ work. Fall in love with a couple of the pieces.      Continue on Hwy 2 (on this getaway we’re generally flipping the bird to the 401) to Newcastle and make your way to the waterfront where you’ll find a monarch recently arrived from Texas and the air pungent with seaweed.

Take the Lakeshore Road east along the shoreline and through the countryside and past a field of cows that apparently live in the forest.

Take that beautiful winding road all the way to Port Hope where you have lunch at Gusto. Have the fresh bright green dairy-free pea soup and the smoked trout and arugula and shut up about not getting a table on the patio because oh my god already… you have a window seat and air conditioning and the baby at the next table isn’t even crying. Life is good.

Get on the 28 to the 9 and go west a bit to the lavender fields of Laveanne. Shrug when they say you cannot have tea because there are no tables free (tables overlooking the lavender fields!) because they’re expecting a large wine group whatever that is. Buy shortbread cookies instead. Use the loo.

Go back along 9 until it turns into 29 and then magically becomes 30 or Grand or something that takes you into Campbellford where you wonder how you’ll manage to find your B&B because you misplaced the address and then, presto bongo, it appears before you like B&B magic.

Wander about town for just a bit.

Then settle on the patio for a glass of pre-dinner wine in the most ultra Canadian way — under a big old maple.

Have a dinner of curried mussels while listening to a guy in shades sing Dylan. Call it a night when he starts doing Led Zeppelin.

Next day,  cross a suspension bridge into the woods and find a pianist playing birdsong at almost-dawn.

Have breakfast on yet another patio in a town where, oddly, there are not that many patios.

Discover a place that cares for feral cats. And another with a lineup for doughnuts.

A visitor centre that grows tomatoes.

A big twoonie.

And the woman who used to run the Ultramar who has now bought the old bowling lanes and is making them wonderful (truly wonderful…!) including a tropical themed patio (in a town where there are not that many patios).

At the farmers’ market, buy organic lettuce picked this morning and something called rat tails that look like snap peas but taste like radishes and buy a bright red perennial and sample the clover tea.

Have conversations EVERYWHERE. Because you can’t buy a stamp in this town without the friendliest people engaging you in the sweetest banter.

Choose the house you’d live in if you lived here.

And where you’d buy your subs.

And your trophies.

Buy postcards at Stedmans. Buy an optical illusion wind-chime thingy for the garden. Buy a bright orange and yellow tea towel that will make it 1965 every time you dry a soup bowl. Give thanks that places like this still exist, who sell garden hoses and slippers and sheets of gingham patterned vinyl by the metre (what does one do with the vinyl?) and so much else you didn’t know you needed, all in adjoining aisles. This truly is the only way to shop.

Visit the WestBen site and vow to return for the music.

Visit Kerr’s Books and marvel that a town this size has an indie.

Visit Empire Cheese and find not only whiskey mustard cheddar but maybe the best veggie chips around and a view of the land in this part of the world.

Take your time driving home.

Above all, continue the theme of bird-flipping to all major highways.

You’re welcome.

(Note: *do* is just another word for relish.)

More travel notes here…