If you are about to de-moss your roof, OR about to read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, please, by all means, go ahead and do either one. But for your own sake, I beg you not to do what I did: both simultaneously.
It all started innocently enough, with me trying to keep up with The Mate and pull my weight in outdoor chores. With our barn roof doing its best to become a forest floor, I joined in on the de-mossing project, 100% committed.
Of course we didn’t use any chemicals to remove the moss. Our only tools were a sort of vicious, giant metal ogre-toothbrush, and our own muscles.
At first the job was actually pretty fun. Hard work, and–way up high, in a harness–a little scary, but fun.
But then, on Day 2 of Project Kill the Moss, I happened to pick up Dr. Kimmerer’s book on a recommendation. Dr. Kimmerer, as I mentioned in my last post, is a Bryologist–a moss expert. In the opening pages, I realized she was opening my eyes to a world I had always admired but knew NOTHING about.
The “moss” is many different mosses, of widely divergent forms. There are fronds like miniature ferns, wefts like ostrich plumes, and shining tufts like the silky hair of a baby. A close encounter with a mossy log always makes me think of entering a fantasy fabric shop. Its windows overlow with rich textures and colors that invite you closer to inspect the bolts of cloth arrayed before you. You can run your fingertips over a silky drape of Plagiothecium and finger the glossy Brotherella brocade. There are dark wooly tufts of Dicranum, sheets of golden Brachythecium, and shining ribbons of Mnium. The yardage of nubbly brown Callicladium tweed is shot through with gilt threads of Campylium. To pass hurriedly by without looking is like walking by the Mona Lisa chatting on a cell phone, oblivious. (p. 10)
That last line? She could have been talking about me. And I LIKE moss! I mean, mosses. Sorry.
You can tell where this is going, right? I stared noticing the different types of mosses I was murdering, wondering which was which. I realized the importance of names, as she mentions in a passage I quoted last post:
…Often, when I encounter a new moss species and have yet to associate it with its official name, I give it a name which makes sense to me: green velvet, curly top, or red stem. The word is immaterial. What seems to me to be important is recognizing them, acknowledging their individuality. In indigenous way of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. (p. 12)
Bad enough, I thought, to be scraping away at these works of Nature’s art, these tiny, persistent beings. But how much worse not even to acknowledge them by name!
To make matters worse, around Day 4 of the project, I ran into this passage:
Allegedly, the moss rhizoids penetrate tiny cracks in the shingles and accelerate their deterioration. However, there is no scientific evidence to support or refute this claim. It seems unlikely that microscopic rhizoids could pose a serious threat to a well-built roof. One technical representative for a shingle company acknowledges that he’s never seen any damage by mosses. Why not let them be? (p. 95)
Wait, what? I’m perpetrating all this murder and mayhem and it might even be FOR NOTHING?
But I wasn’t about to talk myself into stopping 2/3 of the way through the project, let alone The Mate.
I pushed on. But the joy was gone from the job. All I felt was guilty. Well, and a bit sweaty and dirty too.
The barn roof is free of mosses now, and if Dr. Kimmerer is right, it might be years before they’re fully back. When they are, I think I might argue to let them be this time. Meanwhile, as penance, I’m noticing their individuality as much as possible on my walks, and talking up Gathering Moss to whomever will listen.
And I’m thinking about the importance of names: how we name what we value, and value what we name.
Maybe, as part of my penance, I could learn those Latin names. Or even, God help me, turn my attention to those other unnamed companions of my spring and summer walks…the grasses.