Oregon State University , 2003, pbk 168 pp

ISBN: 978-0870714993


Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain

 I had often wondered what sacred object a Native American friend of mine kept in the small, beaded, deerskin pouch around her neck. The day I found out, we were out walking. Squatting to examine a tiny flower, she produced from the pouch a small but powerful (x10) Bausch & Lomb lens.

Intrigued by her exclamations of awe, I begged a turn. What I saw filled me with delight, changing my frame of reference for ever. Even the smallest, simplest flower became as lush and gorgeous as a Georgia O’Keefe painting. A whole new world opened up to me in that moment. After that I, too, became a habitual lens carrier.

It was with similar feelings of delight that I discovered this lovely and unusual book by another Native American member of the lens-carrying sorority, bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Since reading it, I have learned that small is not only beautiful. It can also be clever, creative, and amazingly innovative in its efforts to survive in the world of larger things. Bryologists study mosses, liverworts and other tiny plants we see and yet don’t see, except as a soft green presence on rocks and tree stumps. This story of mosses, who they are, how many shapes and sizes and habits they display and how they adapt to a vast variety of environments, had me totally absorbed. For Kimmerer is not any ordinary bryologist. She is the eloquent spokeswoman for the mosses, their champion, their interpreter – and their devoted disciple. She is a wonderful storyteller and an inspirational writer. This is both a book of fascinating information, and a treasury of Earth wisdom. Here is a scientist who can explore a moss-covered log not just with eye and mind but with her whole being, with reverence, love and deep humility.

The rocks are beyond slow, beyond strong, and yet yielding to a soft, green breath as powerful as a glacier, the mosses wearing away their surfaces bringing them slowly back to sand. There is an ancient conversation going on… 

Moss, she explains, has many life lessons to teach us. For her, it is a constant reminder that…there are mysteries for which a measuring tape has no meaning.