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ELEMENT: Sweetgrass

Element /’eləmənt/: one of the simplest or essential parts or principles of which anything consists, or upon which the fundamental powers of anything are based.

Today on the Journal, we begin our Element series, an exploration of the elemental things that are simple but essential parts of our environments. Our very own Asia Wong, artist and maker liaison, talks about the role of sweetgrass in her daily life.

I begin most days with a walk to the bay, where I swim. Recently, I came upon tufts of sweetgrass along one of the trails. It felt like a coming of age.

I do most things instinctively. When I forage in the surrounds of Point Reyes, I use my imagination, drawing out a prehistoric, intrinsic wisdom to understand and relate to the plants I collect. Sometimes a book tells me what I want to know, sometimes revelation comes from the eye-wisdom of another person, sometimes my hands and senses guide me in ways I don’t understand. This is how I learn.

One early morning, sweetgrass showed her almond-honey face to me, right as she was blooming. Easily mistaken for other grasses in her domain, she reveals herself to the world with tiny tufts of fuzzy, white seed-flowers. Equally elegant and child-like.

I brought a handful of her home and decided to make a few braids, though I didn’t really know how. One for my aunt and one for my sister. My aunt, who is currently reading Robin Kimmerer’s poetically wrought essays Braiding Sweetgrass, shared with me that sweetgrass is traditionally braided by a pair of people—one holds it while the other one braids. It makes sense to me now—my loose and simple braids would surely have been more tightly woven had a companion helped me. Nowadays, I collect a small handful of sweetgrass after my morning swim and leave them in messy pile to dry out on my window ledge. Their fragrance, my companion. Their presence, my delight.

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