Monday, July 30, 2012

Theodore Roethke Poem: Illuminations with FWS Biologist Roxanne Bogart as Moderator

Roxanne Bogart
Every chapter in Dr. Kimmerer's book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, gives us greater insight into and appreciation for the lives of mosses -- their role in ecological succession, and as miniature forests that set the stage for and support entire communities of life. Her stories make you think more than twice about stepping on or pulling up these amazing microcosms that have mastered dessication and immortality.

Theodore Roethke
 I want to share a poem:

Moss-Gathering by Theodore Roethke

To loosen with all ten fingers held wide and limber
And lift up a patch, dark-green, the kind for lining cemetery baskets,
Thick and cushiony, like an old-fashioned doormat,
The crumbling small hollow sticks on the underside mixed with roots,
And wintergreen berries and leaves still stuck to the top, --
That was moss-gathering.
But something always went out of me when I dug loose those carpets
Of green, or plunged to my elbows in the spongy yellowish moss of the marshes:
And afterwards I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,
By pulling off flesh from the living planet;
As if I had commited, against the whole scheme of life, a desecration.

[Editor's Note:  Always hopeful for comments and conversation...what are you thoughts about mosses, the microcosm, metaphors?]

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Gathering Moss" Discussion with Moderator Roxanne Bogart, Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist

Roxanne Bogart
Greetings WILD READERs! I appreciate the chance to moderate your conversation about this award-winning piece of nature writing by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

In Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of MossesRobin Wall Kimmerer has woven together personal narrative and scientific knowledge into a gift for the world, as she was called to do.  Her recounting of the natural history of mosses is deepened and brought to life by memoir, her Potawatomi ancestry, and even through mystery—all of which enhance scientific understanding.

Gathering Moss is a call not only to know mosses, but to see differently in the natural world. She calls us to a higher plane of understanding mosses, or any species of interest, but especially the small and minute. In the chapter “Learning to See” she remarks on how attentiveness over time can result in intimacy that accompanies a deeper knowing than mere visual acuity. She writes,

“Attentiveness alone can rival the most powerful lens.”

“Mosses and other small beings issue an invitation to dwell for a time right at the limits of ordinary perception. All it requires of us is attentiveness. Look in a certain way and a whole new world can be revealed.”
Moss Garden, Bloedel Reserve, Washington State, USA

The opening chapter presents her story of coming upon a mysterious circle of immense glacial boulders she had never seen before, along a path leading home from her Bio Station—a path she has walked for nearly two decades. At the confluence of two stones is a cave leading to a tunnel that brings her to a meadow within the immense moss-covered stones. Here she experiences a timelessness that brings with it a gift—a message of responsibility to carry the names and stories of mosses to the world. To share the truth, mystery, and intimacy of these species. She writes,

“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 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.”

I am curious about how readers interpreted and reacted to this chapter.

In chapters three, four, five and six, through insightful, sometimes amusing analogy, she conveys the intricacies of moss reproduction, the diversity of their tactics, and their structure, form, and movements, all based on an intense affinity for water. Her stories take us into deep connection, enriching our experience of this “primitive, simple” plant. When I see mosses now, I experience them in a whole new way and her graceful prose comes to mind.

Sphagnum moss/Credit: USFWS/Gary Peeples
“Animated, released from stillness by the rain, Dendroalsia begins to move, branch by delicate branch unfolding to create the symmetry of overlapping fronds. As each stem uncurls, its tender center is exposed and all along the midline are tiny capsules, bursting with spores. Ready for rain, they release their daughters upon the updrafts of rising mist. The oaks once more are lush and green and the air smells rich with the breath of mosses.”

She writes not only to teach about the biology of mosses, but to share what lessons mosses have illuminated for her, what lessons they hold for us all. She thus creates a closeness with and appreciation for these species in ways that physical descriptions alone cannot do.

For example, in “An Affinity for Water,” mosses teach us about the strengths of simplicity and letting go, and she relates these traits so elegantly to human love that fills us and to our mortal lives that ultimately require us to let go of loved ones. The lesson is one of not resisting change, but living in total acceptance as the mosses do. And she writes,

“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.”

Please send your thoughts and reactions!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Coming to WILD READ on July 22: "Gathering Moss"

Our Guest Moderator Will Be Conservation Biologist Roxanne Bogart

Roxanne Bogart
Roxanne Bogart is a conservation biologist and writer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Program in its Division of Bird Habitat Conservation in Arlington, Virginia. She is the editor of the All-Bird Bulletin, the newsletter of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative that presents the work of bird and habitat conservationists from across the continent and beyond. She earned a B.A. in biology from Bryn Mawr College and an M.S. in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology from the University of Maryland. She is a birdwatcher, poet and nature essayist who believes in the importance of nurturing the innate sensibility that calls each of us to act on behalf of wildlife and their habitats by spending time in nature, deep reflection, and writing. She strongly believes in making science accessible through story -- or other engaging writing -- to promote nature literacy and the conservation ethic. She lives in Amherst, MA with her husband, three daughters, and assorted pets.