How To Think Like Moss

In one of my teenage fantasies, I am having such a large emotion that the seeds in the earth spontaneously sprout, grow, blossom. In this teenage fantasy, my large emotion is something like the seeds of a dandelion that can crack concrete. I know there are tree seeds beneath the pavement. I know there is a forest here, waiting, potential. In my teenage fantasy, my feeling is strong enough to undo the city (my A-levels, compulsory heterosexuality, money) in one fecund explosion of leaves and branches.


But feeling is not enough, never has been. This view of a tree, effortless, emotional, is very teenage. All product, no process.

When I take the train now, I look out at the fields and streets and I think about the forest that used to be here, about that forest that will be here again eventually. I play counting games in my head; how many decades till the ash supersedes buddleia? How long till oak is the dominant species again? What will it look like when the tube tunnels are given over to vines?

This is fantasy again, but a better fantasy. A fantasy that involves time and struggle. A fantasy that nourishes, that pulls me towards possibility. I can’t convince a seed to grow, I can’t fight time. But I can plant things. I can compost.

I think about mountains and moss. No one looks at a rainforest and thinks about lichens on a bare rock face. But everything green starts in something grey, a scab of life on a piece of slate, the very slow process of turning something dead into something living. Even in softer places, man-made deserts where sheep have been, it takes a few years to return. It takes a few years of grass and vetch before the pioneer tree species have enough earth to dig down into.

I think about this model of resistance, which is not easy to sell, as an antidote to some types of anxiety. It isn’t simple, it doesn’t promise a Hollywood happy ending in my lifetime. There’s no X-Factor style emotional arc where I get to feel like a victor. But I wonder if there is something to learn in the slow encroachment of grass onto train tracks.  I wonder if patience is a revolutionary virtue.