In Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, Robin 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|
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.”
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