How much do you know about moss? We see it covering stones of old walls, and west facing tree trunks. We see it tended and venerated in Japanese gardens. But moss is special. Did you know it was the first plant to colonise the land 450 million years ago when there was no soil, just hard rock. Other plants need soil for their roots but moss has no roots. You can see it growing now on recent lava flows, bringing green to the black wastes. On our early planet, moss created a fertile soil enabling other plants to grow on land, and the oxygen it produced enabled other life to thrive.
Moss can withstand extreme conditions better than all other plants. You can find it in hot springs, and in a core sample from the south pole. It is not adversely affected by radiation, but it can be used as an early warning system as the water inside it can be measured for the radiation it contains. If it dries out, it can go into a state of suspended animation for decades, and then quickly revive as soon as it rains. A new plant can grow back from a tiny fragment of leaf. Moss can produce herbicides and bactericides. And they are one of the organisms most resistant to climate change. There are about 25,000 different species. How many different kinds of moss can you find? In what ways can you identify with them?
My piece this month is not about moss but our August weather.
It’s August and the day hangs grey and wet, there is spittle in the air, there are clouds near the ground. The sun is not an orb. His light has been diluted and muted and refracted and captured by all the balls of rain so there is a faint luminescence of grey like an oyster’s dream. The gulls don’t mind, they still sing their silly song and strut the wet beach.
There are two tides on the beach, two edges of water – the sea that scoops and scallops the lower sand, and the run-off from the pavement that dribbles and drools down the steps and edges. There is no-man’s land in between, pock-marked with yesterday’s footfalls, littered with crashed castles washed to ruin. Their people have all left and will be sitting cosy in cafes or edgy and waiting in holiday homes. The most beautiful thing is a gull’s feather, lying white on clay-coloured sand, small and silent, collecting drops of rain like jewels. This is how the day begins. And, strangely, it is easier to walk the beach at first rising when it is flat and empty than when it is full of sunbeams and promise and people. For here it is just my day and there is room in it for me to reach out and touch like the foot of a mussel. It is safe to let in for it is simple and unaffected, a backdrop for love, a table for wonder.