Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Denbighshire, 1 March 2023. Golden early morning light shimmers shyly through the filigree of beech branches, highlighting the sparse remaining yellowing leaves, tenaciously clinging to the end of their season. How lucky I am to live in Wales. Dewi Sant Hapus.
My slow walk along the path moves sideways into the damp leaf litter. The soft ground exudes that wonderful beginning-of-the-year smell. Essence of peat wafts up as my weight disturbs the secrets of the decomposition beneath my feet, beyond the range of the sun. In this place lies a branch, the fractured casualty of a forgotten storm. It now nestles comfortably in the top of the leaf litter, effectively hiding the deceptively soggy layers below.
A dog walker strides past, without apparent awareness of this place, or me, or this piece of timber. She ignores the randomly discarded smooth green baize, of uniform weave and colour, softening the contortions of my seat.
I had to learn to see moss. I get out a magnifying glass, breathe and slow the pulse. Quiet the breathing, focus, and wait. Slowly patterns emerge from myriad tangled threads. A complex tapestry of texture and colour, each tiny colony distinctive from the next, but part of the whole.
I’ve read that there are over 22,000 mosses in the world. Even in Antarctica, there are around 130 species. There is moss waiting to reclaim, restore, regenerate, repair, and renew, somewhere on every continent. There are 811 known species in Wales.
Moss is the stepping-stone between primal, water-born algae and plant life as we know it. It is the author of its own life. Look carefully at the minutest of individuals. Each so different from its neighbour, in accordance with which part of the log is hosting its guest.
A secret world
As always, questions arise – the why? How? When? Moss begs to be sketched or photographed. Neither ever do justice to the reality. Moss holds the knowledge of a secret world. Under the magnifying glass, each minute leaf is beautifully and differently sculptured. Leaves become saw-edged, fringed, spiked, hairy, curved. Mosses can change sex or create spores, as the environment dictates.
Botanical names, an irrelevance, I just love to acknowledge and celebrate their very being and individuality. Each new discovery is an embroidery waiting to happen. Additional texture to enhance the latest piece of weaving. The threads of my work with wool bind me to the unseen threads of communication that will be happening beyond my comprehension. The more I look, the more I realise that moss-covered logs are landscapes in the making.
As time passes, my seat of moss-covered wood will let go and fall to my feet. The remaining exposed wood, ripe for colonisation, waits for its next tenant. Meanwhile it makes do with me, a temporary squatter. This is a powerfully evocative space. Its gifts have the power to ground and relax, invigorate, connect, slow down, and inspire.
The world is a troubled, unpredictable place at the moment. More so than ever, that is. We all survive, or not, through luck and the strength of our choices. A reality reflected in miniature, beneath where I sit. Different and diverse species, co-existing side by side, dependent upon each other for survival.
Today’s science, sophisticated beyond belief, is constantly used to see and understand the world, and the universe within and beyond. Perhaps a cataract of technology has blurred our modern vision to the simple beauty of what is right before us.
Most people who visit Wales will and do appreciate the incredible macro-impact of our local landscape. Life through the magnifying glass, however, has become my conduit for an alternative intimacy with this locality. Occasionally, when I get it just right, my internal landscape feels almost at one with the immediate geography. I have a deep sense of peace and interconnectedness when they walk hand in hand.
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