By Robin Wall Kimmerer


Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is an incredibly special book and her work on moss is equally as beautiful.

This book had me crouched in the garden in my pyjamas, peering at the mosses adorning the rocks of my small retaining wall. Like when I read Rock Pool, this was non-fiction applied to real life. Just as I’d stood and discovered, like Buttivant told me I would, that I could hear limpets, so too I hunched in my garden and saw the mossy patterns that Kimmerer tells us about.

One type of moss grows on the top of the rocks, another on the sides. I see the sporophytes waving slightly in the breeze. I notice that many of the tips appear to have been clipped off, and wonder if Kimmerer’s story of birds eating the moss spores is playing out in my garden as well as in the mountains where she carries out her research.

I touch the moss gently and feel the water it holds; tiny islands of moisture on my garden wall transport me to peat bogs and moors. I bring my face inches from the moss and imagine it as a tiny forest. I think of the individuals that make up a patch of moss, and the minuscule water bears – tardigrades – that live in the water that the moss holds.

Kimmerer treasures the many roles of mosses. Water systems for the forest. Providers of humidity. Nurseries for insects. Homes for water bears. Cushions for bird eggs. Blankets for chipmunks and beds for bears. Even some uses for early humans – uses that begin as a puzzle but once revealed feel as natural as using wood to make a fire.

'It seems as if the entire forest is stitched together with threads of moss.'

Gathering Moss is a short book, but its 178 pages are not to be rushed; they are to be read with reverence.

Reading Kimmerer’s writing is a spiritual experience. I spent as much time re-reading and pausing to consider the gravity and beauty of the implications of her writing as I did progressing through the book.

For a grounding, mindful way to connect with the natural world take this book to somewhere mossy. A secluded rocky outcrop; the shady base of a tree; your garden wall; a crack in the pavement; a lamppost. Let the moss show you the teachings Kimmerer imparts. Listen to what the moss has to tell you about the patterns of the natural world.

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