Mossy Thoughts

I walked in the woods today, hoping for more than I got. The temperatures are warming, but the forest isn’t quite ready to get out of bed. I can’t blame it–what a long, frigid winter. It felt weird when I walked into the house–the cabin was colder than the outside air. I poked around in the woods behind the house, saw bulbs coming up, and heard the crows, as I always do. I saw a squirrel, which I don’t see too many of out there. 
Behind the house is a rotting tree which the woodpeckers have made their own. They’ve feasted on it, and now it’s just the right kind of tree for a screech owl. At home we just bought our own Hooter House to hang on a tree, but in the forest they prefer a woodpecker hole that’s deeply hollowed out. I tried to get onto my tiptoes and ooch my way up the tree, but genetics bestowed upon me the spaz gene and, naturally, I fell right off that mossy rock to the left. It’s just as well; no owl wants a big oaf tumbling into their hole anyway.

I love moss. I adore it. Moss makes me so unbelievably happy–this is the true sign of a nerd. I can’t tell why, but moss is peaceful, and quiet, and vibrant, and it smells earthy and peaty. And look at it growing! I pulled it back just a bit and a little spider came out and sat on my hand and looked generally terrified, quickly bailing out over the side of my pinky finger. 

I sat by the mossy rocks for quite a long time, thinking about this intense time in my life–grad school, little children, problems with my mental health–and wondering, in particular, why I feel so overwhelmed by the readings in class, and how deeply they affect me. Yes, the deer over the side of the cliff was awful, and the rainbow fish deserved to be set free. I have emotional responses to each piece we read, but on a deeper level, I am left feeling drained, and sometimes hopeless. It should not be so. Is there no hope in the nature writer’s repertoire?

There must be. And I have begun a series of daily affirmations in which I remind myself that there are thousand of voices, thousands of writers, and we must pair our voices with politicians (yes, we must) and scientists, and activists. And anyone who wants to join the cause. It is not a one-man job. It is the job of a generation. And part of my fear is the demon on my back, this anxiety disorder, which takes the form of a methane devil threatening to choke my children. But part of it is reality, the future which is coming. I do put my faith in science, and for the life of me, I don’t understand why everyone else in the world does not.

I often wonder, where is the harm in accepting the evidence? Where is the harm in assuming that we are on a global trajectory towards disaster? We act now, and we avert disaster. And let’s say for a moment that there is no global disaster looming. Have we lost anything by acting? If nothing else, we end up with a healthier planet. Where is the down side, here? I don’t understand it. I don’t understand the fundamental need to deny this coming change. Why do the deniers plant their feet so steadfastly? What do they gain by denying?

Oh, wait, money.

I don’t understand, and it gets to me. My job, for the moment, is to work on deflecting these hopeless feelings and focus on the positive. Fear will get me nowhere.

At the top of the hill behind the cabin, the woods meet the cornfield. This is the field that was slated for drilling last summer, and for whatever reason the drillers moved to a different site, for now. What unique set of circumstances came together so that these three trees decided to be such good buddies for the entirety of their lives?

I found again the frog pond I loved as child, and it turns out that it’s nothing more than a pile of dirt left when some bulldozer plowed the beginnings of a road 50 years ago. No frogs today; only much and detritus. Which, I believe, will be a fantastic little ecosystem to poke around in when muck is closer to room temperature and creatures wake up. I have every intention of bringing the boys to the frog pond and allowing them to investigate it. Andy will keep his hands clean and possibly poke it with a stick. Ben will dive in, and pick up snakes and toads and bugs. When he was two he brought me a dead mole. 
Andy will feel the world too deeply, like I do. The world hurts him. Unkindness hurts him, even as a witness. (The Sarah McLachlan commercials make him sob.) Ben, meanwhile, marches around with a stick-gun asking me what he can kill. He’s experiencing a 4-year-old surge of testosterone, and my first reaction is terror that he’ll be an animal torturer. He, and every other little boy in preschool. They all march around with stick-guns, having no concept whatsoever of weaponry or death. I try extra-hard with Ben to show him the gentle side of nature. He’s my outdoorsy guy, but he wants to smash and trash and be wild. 

I went back to the moss. I sat by the moss, and put my head on the moss, and smelled it. It smelled so deeply “Piedmont”, as though it contained the essences of all of my family members and our lifetimes of adventures. It smelled like everything, and it smelled like dirt. Both poetic and stinky. 

*This was a tough entry to write, as my brain is fogged up under the effects of a new medicine. I hope that some semblance of a message came through.

6 Replies to “Mossy Thoughts”

  1. This is lovely. I adore moss too. It is so, of the earth. Your reflections are great and important. It is good you are thinking of things deeply, and figuring out how you can work at it, but preserve your sanity too. I'm with you on all of it!

  2. "I walked in the woods today, hoping for more than I got." Isn't that the way it is, sometimes? We become to used to going to nature for solace – as our Xanex and sanity, that when it doesn't provide, we feel cheated or at the very least disappointment.
    The moss pictures and descriptions are beautiful. I love that you return to it when you begin to feel swallowed by sadness. In this entry, your moss is like my tree. *Hugs*

  3. "I walked in the woods today, hoping for more than I got." That is how I have felt a lot this turning season. That is even how I felt in florida. Soon it will be okay…I think.

    I also loved the imagery of the moss. This post was so full of beautiful and sad imagery. You worked it very well.

  4. Funny, you felt foggy but there's a clarity of attention to detail in this entry that is so rich and resonant. It's almost as if you were forced to just slow down and focus in on the details.

  5. Meant to say: You might enjoy Robin Wall Kimmerer's book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. It's a languid book, because, well, it's a whole book about moss. But very interesting!

  6. What a thoughtful post, Laura. You really make your readers think. Your pictures of moss are absolutely beautiful and caught my eye immediately. (And I can't watch those Sarah McLaughlin commercials without crying either.)

    I loved your last two lines: "It smelled like everything, and it smelled like dirt. Both poetic and stinky." Well, isn't that the truth!

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