Forest fire season


08.03.15  This is what it looked like yesterday afternoon and again this morning.  The evening before, just before dinner, we jumped off the dock and swam in sparkly clear water under a crystal clear blue sky.  We’ve been shocked to have so little smoke with the raging fires in California, Canada, Washington and Oregon in this year of drought and record heat. It was just a bit hazy when I went out on the porch to read my latest book, Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  When I noticed the weathervane point in a new direction, it felt ominous.  Inevitable, with the latest high pressure weather system in place, that smoke would make its way across our big valley when the winds were favorable.

How strange in this hot dry smoke to be reading about the life of mosses and their exquisitely designed biology for survival with just the tiniest drop of water or mist of rain.  It felt other-worldly to look up over my book at this view and then back down to the page and read Kimmerer’s description of the boundary layer–the meeting ground between air and land.  The tiny mosses flourish in the unique microenvironment of their boundary layer.  My own boundary layer of smoke meeting the lake did not feel flourishing in any way to this Homo sapiens high off the ground.

In the chapter, “An Affinity for Water”, the author talks about August in the Willamette Valley and the 65th day without rain and how the “moss carpets now lie desiccated on the bark of the summer oaks.”  She calls it “drought-sleep”.

“The mosses begin their time of waiting.  It may be only a matter of days before the dew returns, or it may be months of patient desiccation.  Acceptance is their way of being.  They earn their freedom from the pain of change by total surrender to the ways of rain.  What art of waiting is practiced by the mosses, crisped and baking on the summer oak?  They curl inward upon themselves, as if suspended in daydreams.  And if mosses dream, I suspect they dream of rain.”

She goes on to describe how preparations for drying out are going on in the biochemistry of the moss cell.  “Like a ship being readied for dry dock, the essential functions are carefully shut down and packed away.”  The enzymes of cell repair are synthesized and stored for future access and the cell can turn on and quickly repair the damage.  “Only twenty minutes after wetting, the moss can go from dehydration to full vigor.”

I’m thinking there is lots to learn from these mosses about change and patience and acceptance now that we are in forest fire season.

1 thought on “Forest fire season

  1. Mary

    Who are you? Your writing is so exquisite, thoughtful, deep and profound!! ….and I know you!! How lucky am I?


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