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Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  2,179 ratings  ·  335 reviews

Living at the limits of our ordinary perception, mosses are a common but largely unnoticed element of the natural world. Gathering Moss is a beautifully written mix of science and personal reflection that invites readers to explore and learn from the elegantly simple lives of mosses. Robin Wall Kimmerer's book is not an identification guide, nor is it a scientific treatise

Paperback, 168 pages
Published March 1st 2003 by Oregon State University Press
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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 ·  2,179 ratings  ·  335 reviews

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Miranda Reads

Shout out to this fabulous book, it made a guest appearance in my latest YouTube Video (all about making fun nature things out of felt).

The written review:
There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.
Dr Kimmerer takes us on a walk through the wild, intricate and utterly unforgettable world of mosses.

She has spent years studying one of the smallest plants on earth - mosses.
Electron mic
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading Gathering Moss and it was a lovely surprise. Not what I was expecting. I was expecting lots of pieces of science detailed and separate. What I got was one whole. A story, woven together with moss. I love this book and I love moss! I see it everywhere. As I'm walking across a gravel pathway at work....there it is! As I lift my eyes to gaze at the trunk of a's there too! As I look at at a distant stand of Maple and see a green fuzz, it's too early for leaves....c ...more
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Mosses are the final frontier for most botanists. We start with the easy stuff - trees, shrubs, and flowers - and then level up into grasses, sedges, and rushes. But mosses are uniquely daunting, as there are really no beginner books and even basic taxonomy requires a microscope.

Gathering Moss will probably not teach you any mosses. There's a handful of line illustrations of different mosses, but no photos or tips for ID. Instead, it's a collection of essays linked by the subject of moss but ran
Aug 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2004
ok. so i'm obsessed with moss. but it helps that kimmerer is an excellent nature writer, passionate about her topic, but smart enough to keep it personal and interesting. she made me want to shrink down and live in a forest of moss.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: plants-flora, nature, own
"Mosses are successful by any biological measure - they inhabit nearly every ecosystem in earth and number as many as 22,000 species."

Kimmerer's linked essays weave personal histories with her research and fieldwork in bryology and forest ecology, and she relates the lives of these small plants into the larger sphere of forests, speaking to the important role they play in temperature regulation, air flow, soil nutrients, etc.

Mosses inhabit this sphere of common yet unnoticed living things. Silen
Camelia Rose
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
"“Just as you can pick out the voice of a loved one in the tumult of a noisy room, or spot your child's smile in a sea of faces, intimate connection allows recognition in an all-too-often anonymous world. This sense of connection arises from a special kind of discrimination, a search image that comes from a long time spent looking and listening. Intimacy gives us a different way of seeing, when visual acuity is not enough.”

Gathering Moss is a blend of science and poetry, just the right kind of
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, nature
I love it when book leads on to book, as way leads on to way. Gilbert made the briefest mention of this book in her credits for "The Signature of All Things", recognizing Kimmerer as the real collector of mosses. And brilliantly, my very own library (Belk Library, Elon U) had a copy right on the shelf. Trust me - this is magically written, and will also introduce you to award-winning Scrabble words like seta, protonema, gemmae. I could read over and over again Chpt 2 about "Learning to See". Kim ...more
Meghan Hughes
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This read has now become one of my favorite nature books (next to Braiding Sweetgrass by Kimmerer as well of course!) But really! This book was a bit dense in scientific terms (that I often had to pause to look up), but it served as an incredible well of knowledge on mosses, the habitats they create, the plants & animals they assist, & the relationship we have with them. I especially enjoyed Kimmerer’s words on the impact deforestation has on moss & how even leaving “straggler trees” behind to “ ...more
I cannot express how happy I am to have finally picked Kimmerer's work up. Her writing is beautifully descriptive and all-enveloping, deeply personal and yet insightful in the ways of the broader world. Proportionally, Gathering Moss has more straight scientific writing than Braiding Sweetgrass, more factual descriptions of mosses and the role that they play in their surrounding ecosystems. But you can really see Kimmerer practicing the narrative style that comes to define Braiding Sweetgrass, b ...more
Hank Horse
May 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite kind of science writing, done by someone in love with the physical world, who skillfully communicates how amazing their object of study is. It got to a point where I was dogearing most pages. Moss is awesome, the first stuff to cling to land out of the primordial ocean. You can freeze it to almost absolute zero, then add a drop of water and it's good to go. Kimmerer is an astute observer not only of plants but of people as well. Her chapter 'The Owner,' about her encounter wi ...more
Eddie Watkins
May 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: natural-world
This woman really loves moss, and who can blame her. She writes about it as a scientist, with all the Latin jargon and botanical details, but she also weaves into the linked essays that comprise this book a host of details from her daily life as a mother and traveller and what amounts to a sort of natural philosophy.

The only thing about the book that bothered me a little was her almost grudging inclusion of urban moss (the only type I have daily access to) and she seemed to not miss an opportun
Susan Albert
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Loved this collection of linked personal essays, all focused on Kimmerer's scientific work with mosses but reaching into her life as a teacher, mother, and Native American. Lovely metaphors here for being present to a community of species that lives in a different world, yet shares the world we live in, too.
If you read one book this year about the wild diversity, resilience and charm of mosses - they have their own atmosphere! they can lose 98% of their water and still bounce back with the next rain! - make it this one.

I bought this gem of a book in May after we purchased a little cabin in the Mount Hood National Forest, and I wondered about the abundance and variety of mosses that seem to cover every square inch of nearby ground, rocks, and trees. Now I feel I know a lot more about them. Next up:
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a completely lovely book. It encourage the reader look outside at very small things, to consider how small unnoticed things are important parts of world ecosystems, and even to look inside and consider yourself.

Each chapter takes a meaningful personal recollection and expands it into a particular moss. sphagnum of peat bogs (now I understand how those peat people were preserved!), or bryum in the crevices of city concrete (it's everywhere!), tetraplodon at the base if trees where animals
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book about moss? Really? I hated botany in college so while this was highly recommended by a friend (who happens to be a botanist who studies ...wait for it ... sedges!), I just wasn't sure this was for me. I added it to my TBR list and spent more than a year with it there. I did attempt it once, but didn't get far and the library reclaimed it.

Now, having finally dug in, I only wish I'd read it sooner.

This was Robin Wall Kimmerer's first book. As noted in my review of "Braiding Sweetgrass",
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Robin Wall Kimmerer is such a wonderful storyteller. She could write/talk about anything in the world and it would be engrossing. I knew a little about mosses from my botany days, but not much, and Kimmerer’s deft narration of the lives of mosses- and by extension, the lives of humans and entire ecosystems- was fascinating. She uses humor too, and tragedy, and everything in between to convey a sense of pure wonder at life and the natural world. She’s also very skilled at relating tiny details to ...more
Adam Neve
This is not a cultural history, it's a memoir. This is not a natural history, it's a treatise on bullshit. Aside from a few beautiful turns of phrase and a very interesting discussion of tetraphis reproduction, this book is a groveling paean to New Age-y hippie nonsense hellbent on arguing the claim that indigenous spirituality is an equivalent (or superior) system of knowledge when compared to the scientific method. Rather than discuss actual examples of Native American brilliance, Kimmerer is ...more
Jun 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Final verdict was... finished it, but only because I'd started it.

The moss information was fascinating. Would have read a lot more of that. The rest was built like a collection of standard "life story" essays from a beginner's writing workshop. And I have read far too many of those already.

Too, there was enough bad punctuation to be distracting.
There's a style of writing on potentially dry subjects that includes a lot of "Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek"-like personal narrative and autobiography. It's a great style, but it's so heavily overused in this book that I could't read it.
Andria Tattersfield
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
i!!! love!!!! moss!!!!!

a little plant that holds whole forests together. thank you, professor kimmerer, for revealing all of the ways moss teaches us how to be. :)
I could listen to Kimmerer perform the phone book. Her audiobook voice is just lovely, and it really adds dimension to what she writes about. This is a book about moss, as explored through the scientific and Indigenous knowledge of nature. It definitely made me take pause while wandering the woods recently, and it's a lovely ode to a part of nature that we all so easily overlook.
Oct 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this. Three stars because I probably wouldn’t have read it, but listening to the audio was meditative, informative, and inspiring.
Giselle Bradley
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
DNF'd 5%. This wasn't what I wanted it to be.
Casey Darnell
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, nonfiction
“Just as you can pick out the voice of a loved one in the tumult of a noisy room, or spot your child's smile in a sea of faces, intimate connection allows recognition in an all-too-often anonymous world. This sense of connection arises from a special kind of discrimination, a search image that comes from a long time spent looking and listening. Intimacy gives us a different way of seeing, when visual acuity is not enough.”

Reading this was such a lovely experience. While it may sound like a bota
Jake Porter
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am so glad I found this unlikely gem of a book. It's a shining example of the fact that anything can be fascinating, beautiful, and life-giving if you're curious enough. This is so much more than a book about mosses. It's a book about curiosity, harmony, and the astonishing beauty of the natural world.
Lady Arwen
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
So this book is not really 'a natural and cultural history of mosses', which is what I thought it would be. It is more like the author reflecting on mosses, her life, the meaning of things, and how interconnectivity in biology things (including people and mosses). This book is a series of essays about her life, with mosses playing some role in each.

I liked the parts about moss. I liked the parts where she describes experiments that she/ her graduate students have done/ are doing. I like her desc
It's as surprising to me to write a five-star review on a book about mosses as it is to you to read it. (Well, for those of you who know me)

I picked this up for a reading challenge -- "a book about nature from a culture not your own." I was not excited about this.

The thing is, I don't even have a baseline comprehension of nature. I can't say exactly when it all went off the rails... certainly, I spent most of my childhood out of doors, and have vivid memories of the small wood and creek just a
Jenna Walsh
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book spoke to the child in me that spent hours laying in the yard at eye level with the grass pretending to be a tiny being exploring alongside the ants and grasshoppers.
Kate Savage
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in the Mojave Desert, with nary a tuft of moss in sight.

But I also read this book amid the nightmare of an early pandemic, garbled up with the fever dream of election worries. So even far from the mosses, this was exactly what I needed to read. A reminder to root, to wonder, to show appreciation, to say the names of the smallest beings -- and to love a world that is so much bigger than the narrow news cycle.
Eduardo Santiago
Nov 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Eduardo by: Cecile
Shelves: woc, favorites
Exquisite. Sublime. My initial reaction ("Moss? A book about moss?") was mercifully brief: I sensed that this was a work of love -- so I dove into it that same day, and indeed it is. A work of love and beauty and grace. Kimmerer lovingly and knowledgeably writes not just about mosses but about so much in life that's in plain sight yet we never see. She writes of balances, ecosystems, interweavings; and, necessarily, of destruction we're not even aware of. Her language is delicate yet captivating ...more
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Play Book Tag: Gathering Moss - Robin Wall Kimmerer - 4 stars 1 10 Feb 29, 2020 09:48PM  

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Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (also credited as Robin W. Kimmerer) (born 1953) is Associate Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). She is the author of numerous scientific articles, and the book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. She is Potawatomi and combines her heritage with her ...more

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