Listen to Whispers

Listen to Whispers

Photo Credit: Warrior Publications

Things come to us quietly, in whispers, as it should be. Most of us recoil from loud noise or when someone or something is shouting at us. But whispers, like serendipity, are something I pay attention to — not in a “woo-woo” sort of way (I’m seriously allergic to woo), it’s more about patterns, nudges, and asking “why does this keep showing up” sort of thing.

Braiding Sweetgrass is just one such whisper. It first came to my briefest attention back in 2013 when I was taking a writing class at The Loft. The Loft is housed inside the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts where I have also taken classes in letterpress and bookbinding. There is was, in the lobby, this simple, elegant introduction to MCBA’s Winter Book, Minidewak Readings from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. There would be a reading event and author’s reception. Did I attend? I wish I had been brave enough. I was fearful of driving at night in winter and even more reluctant to attend events solo. At the time, I don’t even think I entertained the idea of going, even though it was free and open to the public. The question I always hold on to is “would I fit in, enough to be present and enjoy myself?”

Mididewak Readings from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Minidewak means “they give from the heart.”

But I held on to the little printed piece promoting Minidewak. It remains displayed in my studio as if a reminder of something I hadn’t figured out yet. I didn’t even look up who the author was or what her life’s journey was that lead her to write her book — which is so odd. I’m naturally a very curious person.

It wasn’t until almost another winter had ended six years later, that I ran across Wild Ones Minnesota Annual Conference being held at the University of St. Thomas in February. It would have been a wonderful conference to attend, even solo, but a waiting list and my poor timing blocked the possibility. One of the conference speakers was Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ph.D., who would talk about healing and restoring our relationship with nature. There was her name again from the little printed piece I have sitting in my studio.

This spring, April to be precise, another artist’s talk and reception caught my attention. It was for Riverlines, a new exhibit of abstract paintings illustrating the deep connection with the Mississippi River by artist Annie Hejny on display at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO). (Now through July 1st)

There in the online write-up about the exhibit, it noted Hejny’s inspiration for her work — the teachings of the Honorable Harvest as recorded by Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. There was her name again and the title of her book, just as it was on the little printed piece sitting in my studio.

So now I have a little over six years of whispers and a certain amount of FOMO* setting in. It hurts being an anxious introvert at times. Latent curiosity aside, I really wanted to find out what was it about Robin Wall Kimmerer and her work that kept coming into my view.

* Fear Of Missing Out

I wrote her name on a yellow post-it note and headed to the local library. I find books easily enough in the Fiction section but things get fuzzy finding a title in the Non-Fiction stacks. Luckily, a young librarian had just finished helping another patron stopped and asked “can I help you find something.” I showed him my post-it and it was if he had actually met the author. He knew exactly what I was looking for. A quick check on his mobile declared the library didn’t have a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass and it was on hold at another branch. (Some days I feel like my whole life is on hold). Had I heard of Hoopla, he asked, “you can download the audio book, it’s read by the author and her voice makes it worthwhile listening.” He had obviously listened to her book before. It was like another whisper.

So now I’m in my studio, working on a large drawing, listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer read from her book Braiding Sweetgrass. The young librarian was right. It’s not just a worthwhile listen, it’s wholeheartedly worthwhile.

From what I have gathered from all the whispers is that Robin Wall Kimmerer has inspired a lot of people, not just artists. I for one, would embrace living in a gift economy based on reciprocity and gratitude. It would flip the whole wage economy, consumerism, and private property on its head. Imagine Congress commencing its session with the Thanksgiving Address. Things might actually get done in an equitable and just way for all people.

I don’t mean to exaggerate that shifting our mindsets to those Robin Wall Kimmerer so eloquently tells in story would cure all our country’s ills, but it would be productive, healing place to start. It would have to be a collective mindset to happen of which I’m not certain we are ready for but am hopeful that a majority are moving towards knowing that living in balance with nature will be our saving grace. Listening to her words has opened me to a way of thinking and being in the natural world that I’ve always felt but never effectively articulated.

You could say whispers are gifts.

Originally posted on May 6, 2019 at, our old debunked website. Moving a few good posts over here.

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Does It Love You?

Does It Love You?

Does it love you?” It’s an opposing question to “Do you love your art?” from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Artists will say, of course, they love their art, the making of art goes to the very nature of who they are. But does art love you back? Now we get into the area of wanting proof. An artist’s life is not easy. It’s fraught with rejection and frustrations. Putting ourselves out there, showing our work, we’re at our most vulnerable.

The proof, however, is found in how art pushes you to get better, to hone your style and technique. It wants your time and attention. Art makes you look and see the world, then allows you to interpret it in a thousand-million ways. Art is about tough love, but she wants you to become the best artist you can be because the world will be better for it. We all benefit from the many voices and visions of artists in profound ways. Art gives us hope. We may not always realize that we all need art. Our souls depend upon it.

Since the beginning of civilization as we know it, artists of all disciplines have found their source for ideas and inspiration in nature. When people are asked (not just artists) the question “Do you love nature?” the answer invariably is a resounding “Yes!” Ask the question: “Does nature love you back?” People will stand looking down at their feet. Again, it’s that wanting proof.

It’s the same question Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and an author who teaches environmental biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, asked her earnest young environmental students, all eager to save the planet. Every student announced they love nature. Not one had evidence to say yes that nature loved them back.

Our problem is we feel nature is indifferent to us. How can we heal a planet with urgency and care when we believe it doesn’t give a damn about us? It’s like trying to love a parent who is cold and distant.

Ancient people, indigenous people, and Native Americans don’t see it this way at all. They have always operated with a sense of being in a reciprocal emotional relationship with their physical, natural environment. Whether they felt that nature was rewarding them or being punished by her, they were in constant conversation with her.

As modern people, we have become so disconnected from nature that we have lost the art of having conversations with her. We are taught to believe nature is separate from us and has no inherent sentience. Yet, there is hope this mindset is changing. People are waking up, wanting to have that conversation and an honest relationship with nature.

I can recall all the moments that nature has gotten me outside of my head, slowed me down, eased my monkey-mind worries and heartache. My proof nature loves me is that if I am patient and still, she will show me her wonders, up close and personal. It’s like she’s saying, “here I am, let’s dance!”

If you want proof that nature loves and cares for you, I found evidence of that working on a project a few years ago for the Minnesota DNR’s Arbor Month Celebration promoting the many health benefits trees provide us. The flip side of this is we are discovering trees have their own emotional lives, communicate with one another, share nutrients and knowledge, supportive interactions are between trees of various species. Trees of one species don’t necessarily compete with other tree species. They all get along.

Now we are discovering and acknowledging that all creatures living on this earth have an emotional life, have relationships, feel pain, and in their way, express love. That understanding may be our doorway to regaining a dialogue with nature. Because we have feelings and are understanding nature herself feels, we can engage in a reciprocal relationship. Nature gives us the seeds, we plant the garden. Having this awareness is fundamental to saving our planet.

However, we are all living amidst a global pandemic. Viruses, grown in a lab or not, are nevertheless organic. They are a part of nature. And nature is dishing out one whopping dose of tough love if there ever was one.

“Our great mother does not take sides, Jake; she protects the balance of life.”
~ Neytiri, Avatar, 2009

Nature is trying to wake us up. Messing with her organisms in a lab, “pulling a Frankenstein,” has serious repercussions. Intending to use her as bio-warfare, she will smack you down hard. Still, I cannot lose sight of the levels of suffering and the thousands of innocent people lost. It’s become a lesson too hard to bear, let alone understand.

I’m learning about the gifts people express the virus is presenting, odd as that might sound. Artists and writers who do a lot of travel for speaking engagements, live performances, book signings are relieved to stop and stay at home. It’s become a great time of reflection, a time many people do not want to go to waste. Families scattered around the country are talking to each other more often than ever before, finding common bonds despite differences. Artists around the world are busy making art to connect us, uplift us, and bring us hope.

Through the thick of it all, winter ended, the weather warmed. Nothing is open but the great outdoors. Nature is there to ease our anxious hearts. Ultimately, we will heal each other.

Recommended Reading:
BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve personally read it. Her book was cited during the Women’s Art Institute Summer Studio Intensive course at the University of St. Catherine’s that I attended in June 2019.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Better yet, get check out the audiobook on Hoopla. Hearing Robin read her book is so soothing. It was also helpful to me to hear the pronunciation of native words.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben After reading this book, I haven’t looked at trees the same way since. It’s both entertaining and fascinating.

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