Wintering with Mosses 

It’s white and bright outside. I’m on vacation and time has mercifully slowed down for a few days. I spend time outdoors, walking, thinking, looking and gathering my sense of place.

I’m not new here. I come to this location often 2 times per year. It is not home but it belongs in my register of the familiar.

I’m on vacation and happen to be reading about mosses. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes so compellingly about these remarkable plants that all I feel is gratitude that she is so gracious in sharing their wisdom. Listen: 

Moss communities may be a mystery to scientists, but they are known to one another. Intimate partners, the mosses know the contours of the rocks. They remember the route of rainwater down a crevice the way I remember the path to my cabin…

…I think the task given to me is to carry out the message that mosses have their own names, their way of being in the world cannot be told by data alone. They remind me to remember that there are mysteries for which a measuring tape has no meaning, questions and answers that have no place in the truth about rocks and mosses. (Gathering Moss, p. 5, 6)

The book is nearly bursting with this very careful and respectful way of describing and appreciating the natural world. And the effect on me is astounding. Besides wanting to go out and look for mosses, I rediscover my pining for connections to the natural world that surrounds me. And mosses have always intrigued me.

Because of the recent snowfall, ice skating on the lake is out of the question for the time being. That means I have time for walking – wandering, actually – creating my own paths in knee-deep snow. I’m not new here but every visit requires claiming a belonging. Thinking of Kimmerer’s welcoming invitation into an easily overlooked world I find both comfort and a kind of peace with the process.

Walking up today was a priority. Rising effortfully above this hilly pasture to get a different view and test my intentions to do more than linger along the flat edges of the lake felt necessary. I trudge and pause. There are deer tracks along the path. I imagine how much more gracefully she must have moved through these woods than I.

Snow weighs heavily on these slender branches. The close of another calendar year weighs on me. So many culminating posts, articles, lists documenting the weight of words, ideas, images, policies and outcomes, and we are not wiser. The weight of our willful ignorance drags us ever closer to the lowest common denominator and suddenly everyone’s humanity is up for debate.

Freezing, not yet frozen. This view of the lake and its borders has always captivated me in every season. The act of looking out, way into the distance offers me a sense of uplift and promise. That may explain why I have so many pictures of this same scene. I’m looking for something I don’t find elsewhere in the same quality. In the distance perhaps I’m seeking traces of my own optimism – the same optimism that tends to flag once the days become shorter.

Endings. This ladder could take you up into the tree. I wonder, what on earth for? I appreciate the clarity, however. Ladder and tree in relationship. I am confident there is more to the story – a story I may never hear and that’s OK. 

7 days’ pause in the persistent hustle leave space for these kinds of mental meanderings. 2017 is nearly at an end. I have no neatly bundled reflections to send out into the world. But I do have a lovely book about mosses which I can highly recommend. So far I’ve learned that mosses are dearly dependent on moisture to flourish but in its absence they are uniquely poised to wait it out until the next rain.

Kimmerer reports:

… most mosses are immune to death by drying. For them, dessication is simply a temporary interruption in life…Mosses have a covenant with change; their destiny is linked to the vagaries of rain. They shrink and shrivel while carefully laying the groundwork of their own renewal. They give me faith. (Gathering Moss, p.37)

Reading Robin Wall Kimmerer is giving me faith. That’s a lot. Happy New Year.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2003. Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR.
images: ©edifiedlistener

All from Weissensee, Austria

6 thoughts on “Wintering with Mosses 

  1. As you know Sherri, my response to your lovely post that I read on Saturday has been delayed by the arrival of my first grandchild – happy days! That has made me even more reflective about connections and encouraged feelings of hope.
    It was so interesting to read about mosses and it chimes with threads of writing about ecologies eg and the way plants communicate. As humans, we are part of these ecologies and not always for the best.
    We visited Yosemite in 2008 and I was fascinated by the stories of the (white) men who ‘discovered’ Yosemite in the 19th Century and made all sorts of assumptions and conclusions about the actions of native Americans that were later proved wrong eg “Generally, the American Indians burned parts of the ecosystems in which they lived to promote a diversity of habitats, especially increasing the “edge effect,” which gave the Indians greater security and stability to their lives. Their use of fire was different from white settlers who burned to create greater uniformity in ecosystems.”
    As a participant observer of Internet Culture over nealry 25 years, I have learned that just when freedom is mos proclaimed, there is conformance and uniformity lurking, these days usually for the financial benefit of platforms.
    My reflections on 2017 are that though we must remain vigilant and critical, we should never give up hope – thanks for enhancing my reflections, Sherri. You always do:)

    1. Thank *you*, Frances for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. The article about how plants communicate is fascinating and also underscores how little we understand about the natural world in some cases and how limited our capacity to find apt metaphors beyond what is hot right now.(fungal internet) Reading about mosses has felt both horizon-widening and like a homecoming. I’m learning lots of new things and being welcomed back into my deeper connections with my natural surroundings wherever I happen to be (even in the middle of the city). I feel hopeful that by showering some attention into unlikely channels, I may find fresh (re)sources for my understanding in more familiar areas. Here’s to 2018 and learning!

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