Every year I forget how crazy the moss is now. Every year, about this time, I walk out into the woods and think to myself that the moss cannot get bigger than it is today. And this happens day after day after day. It's like the trees are growing fur. They clothe themselves in shaggy coats of moss and fern and lichen until the whole forest looks drawn by Dr Seuss. And now I'm wondering... This is a rainforested region, even if it is a temperate rainforest instead of a tropical one... What’s up there? Do we have orchids in our treetops? Are there bromeliads cupping mini ponds full of tadpoles that will grow into frogs who have figured out how to live and love and breed without ever touching the ground, like they do in Brazil, where I really, really want to go?!?
Let’s just Google that shit.
And, of course we do. Where the forest is wild and ancient, or even oldish, there is a world above me. I remember now! I remember that amazing day, when I drove down to Olympia with the very talented Ward Serrill, who is making a documentary film about trees. He had scored an interview with Nalini Nardkani, the Queen of Canopy Research, (A title worth capitalizing, no?): …Nalini Nardkani, who harnessed herself up and climbed hundreds of feet into treetops, who discovered whole new worlds that we never dreamed existed before she ascended that frontier, like an astronaut with ropes instead of rockets.
But I remember thinking that day that she wasn’t just a scientific pioneer. Not that there is anything “just” about science... and yet, she was more than smart and educated and rational and clear on the difference between hypothesis and conclusion. She was alive with her work. Spreading in so many directions. I remember looking at her in her office chair, surrounded by papers in her dark office at The Evergreen State College. (My alma mater, btw. Go Greeners!) Nalini glowed with her love of her work and also she tried crazy shit. Like roping up artists and hauling them up to live on platforms in the canopy, so then they would go home and make music and sculptures and performance art pieces, which then turned into collaborative outreach on behalf of the forest… Like doing outreach to urban kids and also, hello, creating “Canopy Barbie,” a project which buys used Barbies and dresses them up like canopy superheroes so that young girls can see that they, too, can be scientists. (Okay, admittedly, scientists that always measure 39-18-33 with a size 3 shoe. But still. That’s making lemonade from lemons, in my opinion.)
This woman was smart and kind and present and excited and full of magic and glowing with her life.
She reminded me of moss. How it is on these days. And now the moss is reminding me of her. And also of who I want to be. Not a scientist with climbing gear exactly, though I would! But so fearlessly, wildly creative, so willing to extend and grow and yet be rooted, and to give back.
I’m thinking about this as I am designing my next project. I thought about it today, as I was ruminating about the agenda for this retreat, and all the puzzle pieces were spread out in my brain, clear by themselves and yet unconnected they way I need them to be...
But I learned something last summer about how I work. About my own way of reaching and pulling life from what’s around me. I ask questions. I listen. I read and I mull and mull and then ponder and then mull some more.
It seems like nothing is happening. During the mulling, I mean. This can be concerning when, say, you are on a deadline.
But I have learned to stick with it.
Because then, if I hold out and let it happen, something clicks in me. Some pattern shimmers into place, thrumming with life, holding all the pieces and yet becoming more than the sum of it’s parts.
Like moss. (Bear with me.)
I learned this tonight when I watched Nalani’s TED talk. Moss creates more life. It is not a parasite. Yes, it grows on the bark of trees. But it grows in layers, and as the old layers die and the new ones grow on top, the old layers become a home for the life of that world. The old, dead moss is not dead at all. It becomes a layer that is so good at absorbing rain and air vitamins (there has to be a scientific name for them, but it’s late and I’ve done enough Googling today), the “dead” moss is so good at collecting life from the air that it becomes a second forest floor, up there, and the trees grow roots into it, from their bark, and the flowers grow and the frogs and salamanders breed…
I mean, obviously regular salamanders… not the mythical fire salmanders, because they breed in the heart of volcanoes and lava cracks…
I only mention fire salamanders because there is something about that floating, magic-sounding world in the canopy that makes me think of fairy tales. I know that canopy world, somehow, though I’ve never been on one of those platforms. I know how it smells, green and brown, and how wild things peek from every leaf. I know how it hums with silence, and also the drip of rain and the crack of bough and the eerie call of … what was that?!? I don’t know. I also don't know. Because sometimes it is dark here for a long time. There is so much mystery that I can only lean into it and wait, impatient and also devoted, until it reveals itself, a piece of the web of life, of story, as it did for me this afternoon.
When it does, I give thanks. I walk in the woods, my eyes turned up, looking at the moss, thinking, really, can it get any bigger than it is today?