Monday, July 12, 2010


I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes when and why events occur seems to be a direct result of past occurrences; events that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred had some instance never happened prior. You could say it is the hand of fate weaving this interconnected tapestry. My life is filled with these silly coincidences – as if the universe has a plan for me. Maybe it does.

Last Saturday I found myself driving down a particular road past a wholesale nursery where I worked a few years ago – honestly a place I would rather forget. In all seriousness, the fondest memory I have of this place is driving down that road back home with the biggest smile on my face and laughing after my last day of working there.

Everyday I would drive past Sticks and Stones Farm. I knew they grew moss there, which was enough for me to want to visit! Yet it felt like something was telling me not to stop in; perhaps the universe didn’t want me to install a potentially wonderful memory among memories of a time in my life I didn’t want to remember.

My chance came three years later. I turned down their gravel road and walked towards a stone barn. I was greeted by Annie. I told her my reason for my visit: I was thinking of developing my grad thesis around the curation of bryophytes in public gardens. Seeing as how gardens can acquire plants through farms like this one, I wanted to learn how they do their thing. Annie was intrigued and delighted to have me there. She peeked around the side of the barn to find a young man named Andrew working with beautiful hand carved stone planters filled with moss. She told me he would be happy to answer some of my questions.

As we strolled around the property, Andrew told me the farm is technically a working preserve. Not only do they cultivate moss, but they also excavate large stone erratics from the property as well as hold workshops and retreats. We walked a path along the base of a hill side covered in Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) with a thick, unfragmented carpet of Leucobryum glaucum (pincushion moss) underneath as far up the hill as I could see - it looked immaculate! What was their secret? Well, I’m not going to give it away :)

Down in the lowland areas I could see hundreds of trays filled with Climacium dendroides. He showed me a labyrinth he was in the process of constructing. he tells me it is modeled after the one in Chartres Cathedral. The project was only partially filled with Climacium. He didn't want to continue since the moss he planted wasn't looking too happy. I commented that the area was pretty exposed under the thin, deciduous canopy and the gravel path didn't really provide a very saturated environment for that species, and that could explain its sad appearance.

When we arrived back up at the barn, Annie told me of a book she just started reading and thought I would enjoy it. I laughed when she retrieved a copy of Dr. Kimmerer’s book, Gathering Moss. She got a kick out of hearing about my connection to the author. At this point, Tim Currier, owner of the farm and Annie’s husband, came in. Annie served us a delicious banana-coffee milkshake as I told him the reason for my visit and my plans to begin grad school at Cornell. He mentioned he was just about to begin a Japanese-style moss garden project for a landscape architect-friend of his, Marc Keane, to be installed next spring at the Johnson Museum on the Cornell campus. He showed me some CAD drawings of this project titled, “The Garden of the Tiger Glen”. This future project will feature a 400 square foot area with a carpet of moss (Tim is thinking of using Mnium), an 18 inch deep ravine made of stone cutting through, three large stone “kings” and a large tree coming from Pennsylvania. Tim will build the garden onsite later this month (I plan to return later to check on the progress before I move to Ithaca). It will then be disassembled and transported to the campus. I am very excited that I stumbled onto this project when I did. I get to see it as Tim constructs it and the finished product next spring at Cornell! What are the odds…

But that’s not the only exciting that happened on my spontaneous excursion. Annie told Tim about my connection with Robin Kimmerer and he said that since reading her book he has wanted to view mosses under a microscope to see them as Robin describes. He then went to retrieve an old microscope he found in an old house he acquired on his property. He had no idea how to use it, but luckily for him he had all the essential instruments and a certain individual who knew exactly how to use them – me! We went out and I plucked a small bit of Mnium cuspidatum and Polytrichum commune and proceeded to mount them on slides. Only his 10X objective was functional, but it was enough to make him say “Wow!” when he stared down the eyepiece. He called over a couple other people to come and check it out – both with the same exclamation. Thirty years working with mosses and this was his first glimpse into what mosses really look like. Tim was absolutely delighted to have been taught this lesson and excitedly extended an invitation for me to come back whenever I wanted. If there was ever any work or studies I wanted to do with mosses, his property was available - which was amazing. As we parted he verbalized his hope of setting up a “moss camp” so that others can see what I revealed to him today, and of course I offered my services as an instructor.

And so there I was again driving down that road, the biggest smile on my face and laughing – so happy to have made those connections: between me and them, between them and moss, and between me, them, moss and Cornell. I love to reveal the mysteries of moss and see the people’s reactions; to show them something that is hidden to the naked eye, only viewable with an ocular aid.

So I arrived as if called by these people at a time when they needed me – just as they were going to begin this large project for a large university, just as they began reading Dr. Kimmerer’s book and needed help in getting a glimpse into the microscopic world of mosses. It's a pretty small world after all...

Note: I will add pictures once I return to check out the progress on the moss garden...I will remember my camera next time!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


If I could pick out one card out of the Tarot deck to represent my life as of late it would be the Wheel of Fortune. I have been the victim of this force before. Perhaps you have been subjected to it's wheel-like actions, unexpected encounters, twists of fate, unpredictable surprises. Unfortunately sometimes it's energy can have adverse affects. You will start to feel your life speed up drastically, make you feel as if you were caught in a cyclone, depositing you somewhere unexpected, leaving you terrified, sick and disoriented. Only recently have I recovered from my storm; the clouds are clearing and I have found my way onto a path - but the winds haven't quite settled down yet...

I tallied it up. Since 2006 I have lived in 4 states and worked in 5. I have moved 8 times (9 come August) and have had 10 jobs. I look forward to the day where I only need to file one state tax return. It appears as if I am portraying myself as a restless nomad....

This time I'm not just going to ride the winds of change; I'm taking a more active approach. A little over a month ago I had to pack up my life (again) and move to the Hudson Valley in New York. I am working at a large private garden/estate there to bide my time before classes begin. There is very limited internet access here - which explains my long absence - I do apologize...

In keeping with the theme of this blog (though I am entitled to my non-sequiturs), let me discuss the importance of wind in the life of a moss.

Air movement is essential to the distribution of their progeny - an assurance of succession; at least of genetically variable offspring that can give their species an upper hand in colonization.

For the most part - and if you squint really hard - mosses overall have a similar morphology. You will see that they perch their spore-filled capsules on top of a (relatively) long seta. Why expel so much energy into producing such a long wirey stalk? I think to answer this question I should discuss the role of the boundary layer in the life of moss.

The Boundary Layer. Taken from Gathering Moss by Robin Kimmerer

Above is a diagram taken from Dr. Kimmerer's book, Gathering Moss (again, if you haven't already, go read this book!). The boundary layer is a phenomena that can be found on any surface - be it the surface of the earth, or the surface of a leaf. This diagram shows how air moves across a surface: the friction the air encounters as it brushes against the surface creates turbulence, the area just at the surface has very little air movement, and the area above the turbulence moves freely.

Mosses have created a perfect little niche living within this micro-boundary layer. Their lack of vascular tissue makes them tiny and perfectly adapted to living closer to a surface. What does living within the boundary layer provide? More heat, water and carbon dioxide can be trapped in this area and isn't easily blown away - especially after a moss has colonized it creating nice little pockets within its leaves to hold onto these precious elements.

But when it comes time to release the spores, they don't need heat, water or CO2, just the wind. So they poke their little capsules up through the turbulence into the free-flowing air to be whisked away to another suitable habitat. The wind can carry spores miles up into the atmosphere. It's no wonder they can be found on every continent; they certainly are perfectly adapted to go with the flow.