Living and Dying in Harmony
The past couple weeks/months have been tests and lessons in my neck of the woods. Flirting with death, and the life that lived before it, has been the norm.
The death of physical bodies, relationships, and ways of thinking and being in the world that no longer serve, attention for the dying, and for the children left in the wake.
How can one support life on the eve of death?
What ways does one burn bright for others when their fires burn low?
How can nature remind us to keep shining even when the lights are going out?
What in the world does moss have to do with any of this?
Let's find out.
Connection to (Mossy) Place
Well, mosses for one rest quietly, waiting for us to receive their lessons.
I have always loved moss. Some of my oldest and fondest memories are of lying on blankets in my grandparents' moss covered yard coloring and looking at books under the tree shade on summer afternoons while my then baby sister napped inside. She safely snuggled in a crib, and me in my mosses.
I've probably said that memory here before. It's truly foundational for me. I still feel most at home at my grandmother's house and touching her moss brings me instant peace. And I don't take for granted how lucky I am that at age 45 (almost), and her at age 95, she is still thriving and independently in her place of 45 years.
So it is no wonder that as soon as he could walk, I taught my nephew to pet the moss at his great grandmother's house and every moss he encountered. The moss waits for us to learn, through life and death, for generations.
Are we listening?
As a Montessori elementary teacher, I tried to convey a love of moss when I taught the moss botany lessons. But to be honest, I failed. Sure my students learned the anatomy of moss, the technicalities, but they didn't connect or get sparked by the wonder of this ancient, resilient, powerful plant.
Perhaps it was in part because we had no mossy forest through which to wander, where the children could pet moss, daydream, and listen for nature's whispers. But it's only a poor craftsman who blames his tools.
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
Navigating a seemingly endless pandemic, new life, new death, and a tumultuous society and future, looking to nature as a guide and healer is automatic for me.
The book Gathering Moss, the first by Robin Wall Kimmerer, has stood out to my mind so much in the past few weeks. Never have I heard someone speak of moss with the love that I have felt for it since I was a preschooler. And she not only loves it - she actually knows all the science about it! Moss is her professional specialty!
This book is so incredibly thankful and thoughtful. It is comforting in a way I never would have guessed. It is both soft and incredibly strong - just like mosses themselves. I could never do this work justice, so here I offer you a few passages and ponderings, and encourage you to read this wonder-fueling book yourself.
(Especially if you are a Montessori teacher teaching wonder filled elementary age children about moss!)
"As I gathered greens for dinner, I regained my childhood relationship with the woods, one of participation, of reciprocity, and thanksgiving... It's the small everyday items we miss the most when they are gone...
In the web of reciprocity, what is our special gift, our responsibility that we offer to the plants in return?" (102-103, 110)
Embarking on the season of thankfulness and gift giving, this passage is especially poignant.
How can you connect with your childhood relationship to nature -
by growing a garden, harvesting wild greens, getting down low and seeing the world from a child's view, ...?
If you didn't have a childhood relationship with nature, how could you invoke your inner child to connect in wonder filled ways?
And in turn, how can the wonder the plants offer to us be given back to them in return - environmental protection, honorable harvest, gratitude, ... ?
"We tend to devalue the flora of cities as a depauperate collection of stragglers...
You've probably walked over millions of Bryum without ever realizing it, for it is the quintessential moss of sidewalk cracks...
...Under the right conditions, the pearly plants will put up a host of sporophytes to cast their young into the aerial plankton, so that a New York Bryum could easily end up in Hong Kong..." (92-93)
Often people living in urban environments ask me how they can connect their families or students with nature.
Well, the moss Bryum is a perfect example of a bit of nature that thrives in the urban landscape, adapting to extreme conditions with resilience - and is a world traveller to boot!
I try to always emphasize to everyone that nature is all around us -everywhere. We are never far from a little piece of wild no matter how far we may feel like we are from wilderness.
How do we adapt to difficult situations and environments.
What nature could be summoned as a model and support in challenging situations?
How is nature an aid to connection in traveling through physical and social environments?
"An Onondaga elder once explained to me that the plants come to us when they are needed. If we show them respect they will stay with us as long as they are respected. But if we forget about them, they will leave...
...The curtains were a mistake. As if the sun and the stars and a moss that glitters were not enough to make it a home. Their superfluous flapping was a lapse in respect, a slap in the face to the light and the air waiting outside my window.
Instead I invited in the small tyranny of things and let it make me forgetful. Forgetful that all I need is already here, rain on the outside, fire on the inside. Schistostega would not have made the same mistake.
Its life and ours exist only because of a myriad of synchronicities that bring us to this particular place at this particular moment.
In return for such a gift, the only sane response is to glitter in reply. " (161-162)
This passage (and chapter) is probably my favorite from the whole book. And that is really saying a lot because there is some seriously eloquent nature wisdom in this thin book.
Not to mention glowing glittering moss is a real thing?! I have got to pay my respects to schistostega, aka Goblins Gold, one day! If I do right by nature, perhaps this wondrous moss will bestow me with a glimpse.
What curtains do we put up that lapse our respect for nature, for ourselves, that block our abilities to glitter?
When going gets tough, remember, the sun and stars and mosses are enough. We are enough. With gratitude, we keep growing. We inspire others and they inspire us. Nature is enough.
When we allow ourselves to remember and feel the synchronicity, to glitter, even in the toughest times, we offer gratitude and respect to all the lives that have been, that exist in present, and that have yet to be born.
And when we do the moss silently glitters in reply.
Do you have any mossy memories?
Share them in the comments below!
Share photos of moss you discover on instagram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout:
You may have guess by now I'm pretty much a devotee of Robin Wall Kimmerer. Check out this post from last November inspired by her other book, Braiding Sweetgrass
Create tiny boxes to surprise those you know (or don't) with a bit of benevolence! This project includes a pdf printable template.
Connect with Creativity
Looking for a guide to connect more deeply with nature and your creative spark? Check out my newest book Draw Yourself Back to Nature, for teens and adults! Start drawing and painting your way back to nature!