The Potawatomi name for strawberries, ode min, means “heart berry,” because strawberries grew from the heart of Skywoman, the original gardener of the Earth in the Potawatomi origin story.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and author of “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants,” is intrinsically tied to ode min. She vividly remembers a childhood of picking wild strawberries in the fields of her home near the Adirondacks, and making shortcake with them for her dad on Father’s Day.

GREY braiding sweetgrassKimmerer introduced herself to my Native American Literature class as a mother, a daughter, a scientist, a teacher and a writer, I believe in that order. “Braiding Sweetgrass,” published in October of this year, looks at the natural world through all of these lenses. It is a reconciliation of Kimmerer as a scientist and Kimmerer as a child of the Skywoman story, as an indigenous person who believes that plants are the teachers strewn by Skywoman as she tended the world’s first garden. Kimmerer collects poetic essays in her book like people collect sweetgrass to braid and burn in ceremony: essays about her childhood, her children and her ancestors that recall the ties that we all have to each other and every other living thing on the planet.

When she came in to speak to our class, Kimmerer admitted that she has a tendency towards the sentimental; her daughter, in fact, acts as one of her first editors and “cheese-o-meter.” And true—the perfect harmony of humans and nature in each of Kimmerer’s stories could have felt idealized at times.

But even though it is difficult for me to imagine the kind of world Kimmerer speaks of, a world where people and the natural world act as medicine rather than poison for each other, her book is an invaluable tool in getting us there. Kimmerer’s ancestors existed in such a world, and she knows that if people today—not just members of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, but everyone—lived as they lived, and valued what they valued, we could return to it. Kimmerer’s voice refreshes and inspires in a capitalist, resource-snatching society. Her gently maternal, thoughtful voice reminds the reader of humankind’s place in the universe, and invites them to reconnect with the world around them in a mindful way.

Admittedly, what Kimmerer is on to in this book isn’t as ground-breaking as I thought. Kimmerer’s stories are beautiful to read, but their real power, for me, lies in the fact that they give meaning and weight to the reader’s own stories.

The Potawatomi call sweetgrass wiingashk, and it is one of their four sacred plants. Rather than planting it with seeds, for sweetgrass to really thrive you need to transplant sweetgrass—approach a patch of it, take just enough, and re-plant it in another place. Sweetgrass helps with memory; its fragrance is supposed to illicit memories you didn’t even know you forgot.

Reading Kimmerer’s prose I remembered a childhood in the woods, of picking honeysuckle and moss and catching frogs and letting them go, of watching sunlight filter through the leaves on the trees in the summer and watching the snow collect on bare branches in the winter.

I realized that Kimmerer’s relationship to the natural world isn’t idealized at all. As any kid who grew up with trees instead of computers and iPods and iPhones can tell you, a harmonic relationship with the natural world is, simply, natural. It’s easy to lose it in any culture that values consumerism over gratitude, excess over prudence and humble wonder.

These stories can bring you back to a time that perhaps you forgot, or perhaps to a time that is not yours, but your parents’, or your grandparents’, or your grandparents’ grandparents.’ Kimmerer’s words, at least for me, made that time as tangible as sweetgrass or strawberries. If you’re willing and open to go there, she can take you close enough to taste it.