That’s Dirt, Not Blood on My Hands–But Yes, I Perpetrated a Mossacre :(

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.

Committed to getting rid of THIS.

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.

Like so.

At first the job was actually pretty fun. Hard work, and–way up high, in a harness–a little scary, but fun.

Can’t call myself brave ’cause I’m not afraid of heights. But I did move…let’s say…cautiously up there.

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!

Fare thee well, ye feathery and ye silky-fronded alike!

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.

Coming for ya, whether you like it or not. Me–I don’t like it anymore.

I pushed on. But the joy was gone from the job. All I felt was guilty. Well, and a bit sweaty and dirty too.

But you tough little rhizoids? Kinda cheering for ya now.

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.

Oh dear God, not the grasses!


My Labor Day of Love: Sisyphus Meets Jacob

Pardon me for mixing and mangling myths and Bible stories, but this Labor Day has me thinking about the meaning of work when it’s done specifically and voluntarily for another person. See, Labor Day weekend generally includes my wedding anniversary (# 29 this year), and this particular Labor Day, I did not have to work at the bakery as I have for the past six years.

Wow, at home all day with my Mate! Except my Mate was sick.

So I decided to do some chores on his behalf. To be precise: I decided to load a ratty old tarp with branches and sticks and drag it from the portion of woods he’s been clearing for the past several years over to the site of his next burn pile.

Welcome to Wing Park! (Thanks, babe.)

Welcome to Wing Park! (Thanks, babe.)

Now, branch-dragging is something I’m on board with. I’ve been helping out on that front for a few years now, usually after windstorms. But lately, my Mate’s standards for “clearing” have gone from branches, to sticks, to TWIGS and CONES, people. Stuff you have to use a rake on.

Lately, this is how my inner monologue has gone when I’m helping out with this chore:

“Are you kidding me? Am we really doing this? Isn’t that tree just going to drop the same number of twigs and cones tomorrow?”

Herculean labor it is not. But Sisyphean? Absolutely. Humph. Grrr. Honestly!

But today, on my almost-anniversary, with my sweetie in bed sick? I raked the heck out of those twigs and cones. I even started pulling up blackberry vines–talk about a futile task! And it felt GREAT.

I love you THIS much!

I love you THIS much!

And I started thinking about that Bible story where Jacob works seven years for Rachel (after being tricked by his future father-in-law). I know, the situations are pretty different. But that labor-of-love thing? Yep. I was feeling it. Work done out of love is no longer work.

So Happy Labor Day, everyone. May you find the work that spreads love, whatever form it takes. And then, when you’re ready, may you celebrate with your version of this:

Worth every twig.

Worth every twig.