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Gathering Moss

A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Publication Year: 2003

Winner of the 2005 John Burroughs Medal Award for Natural History Writing

Living at the limits of our ordinary perception, mosses are a common but largely unnoticed element of the natural world. Gathering Moss is a beautifully written mix of science and personal reflection that invites readers to explore and learn from the elegantly simple lives of mosses.

In this series of linked personal essays, Robin Wall Kimmerer leads general readers and scientists alike to an understanding of how mosses live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings. Kimmerer explains the biology of mosses clearly and artfully, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us.

Drawing on her diverse experiences as a scientist, mother, teacher, and writer of Native American heritage, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.

Published by: Oregon State University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. 6

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Preface: Seeing the World Through Moss-colored Glasses

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pp. 7-8

My first conscious memory of “science” (or was it religion?) comes from my kindergarten class, which met in the old Grange Hall. We all ran to press our noses to the frosty windows when the first...

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pp. 9

I am grateful for the many good people who have shared in the creation of this book. Thanks to my father, Robert Wall, for the time spent looking at mosses and the craft that lead to the beautiful drawings. It has been a joy to work together. I gratefully acknowledge also the permission to use the illustrations...

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The Standing Stones

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pp. 10-15

Barefoot, I’ve walked this path by night for nearly twenty years, most of my life it seems, the earth pressing up against the arch of my foot. More often than not, I leave my flashlight behind, to let the path...

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Learning to See

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pp. 16-22

After four hours at 32,000 feet, I’ve finally succumbed to the stupor of a transcontinental flight. Between takeoff and landing, we are each in suspended animation, a pause between chapters of our lives. When we stare out the window into the sun’s glare, the landscape...

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The Advantages of Being Small:Life in the Boundary Layer

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pp. 23-29

The wailing toddler attached to the end of my arm earns me a disapproving look from a sour-faced lady. My niece is inconsolable, because I made her hold my hand when we crossed the street. She is in full voice now, yelling, “I am not too little, I want to be big!” If she only knew...

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Back to the Pond

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pp. 30-37

I shiver in the damp breeze, but I can’t bring myself to close the window on this April night that is sliding off the cusp of winter into spring. The faint sound of the peepers flows in with the cold air, but it’s not enough. I need...

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Sexual Asymmetry and the Satellite Sisters

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pp. 38-43

Our local NPR station has a show in the Saturday morning lineup that usually accompanies my Saturday errands or a drive to the mountains. Sandwiched in between “Car Talk” and “What Do...

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An Affinity for Water

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pp. 44-52

On the hilltops of my home in upstate New York, the bare gray branches of the maples seem to be traced with a newly sharpened pencil against the winter sky. But in the Willamette Valley the Oregon oaks...

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Binding up the Wounds:Mosses in Ecological Succession

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pp. 53-60

In the after-lunch indolence that follows a good climb, I’m watching an ant haul a sesame seed from my sandwich crumbs across the bare rock. She carries it to a crevice in the rock which is filled with Polytrichum, a bristly...

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In the Forest of the Waterbear

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pp. 61-70

The rain forest beckons to botanists like Mecca to the faithful. For years I dreamed of a journey to the cradle of plant civilization, the verdant Holy Grail. When the time came for my pilgrimage, my head was filled with...

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pp. 71-77

I finally got around to refinishing the bottom of my canoe. After the duct tape wore off. Ahh, duct tape, the great enabler of the procrastinator. I peel it off, layer after layer, where I’d slapped it on after a collision with a rock...

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pp. 78-90

My neighbor, Paulie and I communicate mostly by shouting. I’ll be outside unpacking the car and she’ll stick her head out of the barn and yell across the road, “How was your trip? Big rain while you...

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A Landscape of Chance

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pp. 91-99

I believe it was the silence that woke me, an unnatural quiet in the silvery half-light before dawn, the hour of wood thrushes’ songs. As I rose through the clouds of sleep, their absence grew alarmingly real. An Adirondack...

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City Mosses

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pp. 100-108

If you’re a city dweller, you don’t have to go on vacation to see mosses. Sure, they’re much more abundant on a mountaintop or in the falls of your favorite trout stream, but they also live alongside us every day. The city mosses have much in common with their urban human counterparts;...

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The Web of Reciprocity:Indigenous Uses of Moss

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pp. 109-119

With the first scent of burning sage, the ripples on the surface of my mind become still and it is as if I am looking deep into clear sunlit water. Murmured prayer surrounds me with wisps of smoke...

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The Red Sneaker

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pp. 120-129

As I dance alone in a sunlit bog, the ground beneath my feet rolls in slow waves. For a long seasick moment my foot hangs in midair, waiting for a solid place to stand. Every step sets off a new undulation, like walking on a waterbed. I reach out to steady myself, grabbing a...

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Portrait of Splachnum

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pp. 130-133

The jet stream flows through the stratosphere like a muddy river. It cuts from one shore and deposits on the other, homogenizing its load of sediment. Swept along in the current are airborne seeds and spores, keeping...

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The Owner

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pp. 134-149

The letter had no return address. I’d been summoned by an invisible man, with an offer I couldn’t refuse. The letter, on thick white paper, requested my “expert services as a bryologist, to consult on an ecosystem...

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The Forest Gives Thanks to the Mosses

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pp. 150-159

From the windswept silence of Marys Peak, you can see the struggle unfolding. The land that stretches to the ocean, sparkling seventy miles distant, is broken into fragments. Patches of red earth, smooth blue green slopes, polygons of bright yellow green and amorphous dark...

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The Bystander

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pp. 160-164

Digging my boots into the hill, I gather my strength and lunge for the next handhold, a clump of stems above me. A thorn plunges deep in my thumb, but I can’t let go. This is my only anchor. The bright blood...

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Straw into Gold

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pp. 165-171

It disappeared the year I brought curtains. I knew it was a mistake, yet having made them, owned them, I felt strangely bound to let them hang, although they tangle in the wind and plaster themselves wet against the screen in a thunderstorm...

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 172-174


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pp. 175-177

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716416
E-ISBN-10: 0870716417
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870714993
Print-ISBN-10: 0870714996

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: Line drawings
Publication Year: 2003