During a recent writing sabbatical in Seattle, Washington, I spent many hours wandering the streets around Capitol Hill. Within this cultured environment of heritage homes and mature gardens spreads an unobtrusive, still-wild landscape of moss. Fed by the rainy climate, moss softens the hard angles of a staircase. It transforms rock walls into verdant mountains. It washes down cement walls. There seems to be nowhere it does not want to grow.

In a recent interview, botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer describes the miraculous generosity of this ancient plant. Mosses, she says, “take little from the world and yet flourish everywhere.” They build soil, purify water, make seed beds and provide habitat for hundreds of microscopic creatures. On the reciprocity scale, mosses give more than they take.

Reciprocity is much on my mind as I complete a draft of a new book on rainforests and climate change. The effects of increased carbonation in the atmosphere are spurring our culture to examine more intently its relationship to the natural world. The beauty and profusion of moss deserves attention. Accepting of circumstances and undemanding, it inhales carbon and exhales a pillowy green breath. I walk through the misting rain, celebrating its long survival, and contemplating how I might live more like it does.

Written by Eileen Delehanty Pearkes