Jessica Becker, director of digital content at Wisconsin Humanities Council
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Kimmerer beautifully braids stories from her life as a mother, a botanist, a professor, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The essays, or vignettes, are clustered progressively in sections called planting sweetgrass, tending sweetgrass, picking sweetgrass, braiding sweetgrass, and burning sweetgrass. One of my favorites is titled "Learning the Grammar of Animacy." It is a humorous and humble story about learning to speak a new language and all that is revealed about culture and oneself through language. For Kimmerer, the lessons come while learning Potawatomi, an Anishinaabe language. She writes, "Now my house is spangled with Post-it notes in another language, as if I were studying for a trip abroad. But I’m not going away, I’m coming home."
Language is important to Kimmerer. Her words flow, making this an easy read, though the ideas are deep and held up with solid science. Quoting her commencement speech at Northland College, where she received an honorary degree, Kimmerer says that gratitude reminds us "we are not alone in the world [and] that our very existence relies on the gifts of others." So if this recommendation strikes you at the right moment, then consider it a gift and read up. Braiding Sweetgrass is a perfect story for summer.
Meg Turville-Heitz, grant program director at Wisconsin Humanities Council
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
As we were planning Wisconsin's Water Future, our Beyond The Headlines program in Madison, I kept hearing mention of several books related to water issues that I'm very much enjoying—if you can use "enjoy" about stories with such dark themes running through them. Dan Egan's The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, University of Wisconsin-Madison's latest Big Read selection, tells a highly readable and compelling history of the Great Lakes. I'm only a few chapters in and already a theme of decision-making made based on cheapest and quickest, without much research or thought to long-term impacts, is playing out. Such decisions led to the arrival of multiple invasive species in the Great Lakes that have collapsed fisheries and imperiled ecosystems.
Gail Kohl, development director at Wisconsin Humanities Council
The Driftless Reader, ed. by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley
Do yourself a favor this summer and pick up The Driftless Reader, edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley. It is a wonderful selection of excerpts of literary, journalistic, and scientific writings created to present a beautiful mosaic of the region. The Driftless Area is a rugged land, reaching into four states. It has been home to an extraordinary group of people: Ho-Chunk, Sauk, Dakota, Norwegian farmers, Dominican nuns, Buddhist monks, Cornish miners, African American barn builders, Hmong and Amish farmers, Shakespearean actors, and more.
There are eighty texts in the book, including the writings of Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Aldo Leopold, David Rhodes, Fabu, Wallace Stegner, Patty Loew, Pedro Guerrero, John Muir, and so many more—Native people, explorers, historians, scientists, and poets. There are also maps, paintings and illustrations scattered throughout this beautiful book.
One of my all-time favorite books, The Land Remembers by Ben Logan, is excerpted and sums up, for me, why the best way to understand this region is by looking at it through different lenses. Logan wrote, "There is no neat and easy way to tell the story of a farm. A farm is a process, where everything is related, everything is happening at once. It is a circle of life; and there is no logical place to begin a perfect circle. This is an unsolved paradox for me. Part of the folly of our time is the idea that we can see the whole of something by looking at the pieces, one at a time. Yet, how else tell the story of the farm?" That is the best way to enjoy this reader: one story at a time. It is a rich and delicious read on a summer day or anytime throughout the year!