Life's Non-Compete Clause: Comfort From Mosses
"Practicing contentment is a radical act in a consumption-driven society." —Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Returning the Gift
Nature relies on ways other than competition to sustain life.
Mosses have, in the ecological sense, very low competitive ability, because they’re small, because they don’t grab resources very efficiently, and so this means that they have to live in the interstices. They have to live in places where the dominant competitive plants can’t live. But the way that they do this really brings into question the whole premise that competition is what really structures biological evolution and biological success. Because mosses are not good competitors at all, and yet they are the oldest plants on the planet. They have persisted here for 350 million years. (The Intelligence In All Kinds of Life, interview with Krista Tippett at "On Being")
Edges, margins, and interstices shelter and sustain life at least as well as centers and prominence do.
. . [I]n their simplicity, in the power of being small, mosses become so successful all over the world because they live in these tiny little layers on rocks, on logs, and on trees. They work with the natural forces that lie over every little surface of the world, and to me, they’re exemplars of not only surviving, but flourishing by working with natural processes. Mosses are superb teachers about living within your means. (The Intelligence In All Kinds of Life, interview with Krista Tippett at "On Being")
Small is beautiful, powerful, and life-giving.
Mosses build soil, they purify water, they are like the coral reefs of the forest, they make homes for this myriad of all these very cool little invertebrates who live in there. They are just engines of biodiversity. They do all of these things, and yet, they’re only a centimeter tall. (The Intelligence In All Kinds of Life, interview with Krista Tippett at "On Being")
One gram of moss from the forest floor, a piece about the size of a muffin, would harbour 150,000 protozoa, 132,000 tardigrades, 3,000 springtails, 800 rotifers, 500 nematodes, 400 mites, and 200 fly larvae. These numbers tell us something about the astounding quantity of life in a handful of moss. (Robin Wall Kimmerer: Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.)
Dr. Kimmerer, with your commitments to both indigenous cultural wisdom and scientific understanding, please have the last word:
. . . [S]cience asks us to learn about organisms. Traditional knowledge asks us to learn from them. (The Intelligence In All Kinds of Life, interview with Krista Tippett at "On Being")