Wild Words: Kirsteen Bell

Mosses depend entirely on moisture to exist. Without it they will not photosynthesise, will not grow green. NO F05 moss
Mosses depend entirely on moisture to exist. Without it they will not photosynthesise, will not grow green. NO F05 moss

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The spell of those few sparkling days of frost has broken. The snow comes and goes, and, on the whole, we have been returned to our rather more wet reality.

I am not walking on the hill behind the house, I am wading. The uneven surface of desiccated heather and sedge is saturated and overflowing. This is a landscape built on water – built on moss.

Mosses depend entirely on moisture to exist. Without it they will not photosynthesise, will not grow green. Their colour is a welcome relief now, in what is otherwise a sea of brown.

I need a stick to walk up here if I don’t want to end up floundering to and fro in that sea, flapping like a fish out of water. If I forget though, I can always attempt to follow the fence, lurching between each post.

I will be thwarted though where a few metres of fence have sunk into the ground, surrounded by pillows of sphagnum moss.  Standing on the slope above this wee bit of fence, even on a dry day, you can hear trickling all around you.

A heel dug into the vegetation reveals a Lilliputian river winding down between the heather stalks.

Further exploration reveals countless more, an inconceivable number of flows teeming across this landscape, towards the bowl in which the old fence sits.

I have got it the wrong way round: the fence didn’t sink – the ground rose up to meet it.

All of this water, all of that rotting sphagnum pooling within it, slowly reforming the surface of the land.

Only the top bright colour of the sphagnum moss, its capitulum, breathes light. The cells on the leaves underneath are mostly dead, but it is those empty cells that hold the water.

They draw it up towards the green that still forms a path through sunlight. And, as the top grows, the old moss underneath is further steeped in the gathered rainfall.

Empty space and water become the solid peaty ground that we can walk upon.  Every year the rain continues to fall from the sky, saturating even the highest ground so that it rarely dries out completely.

Every year the sphagnum continues to reach up, out of the old wet growth. Over time that growth becomes compressed, creating and perpetuating the acidic and anaerobic environment through which everything up here roots, forming peat.

I am surrounded by land that would swallow me if I could stand here long enough. Peat gathers the surface into itself, growing at a rate of around 1mm a year.

I am 5 foot 6 inches tall in my bare feet. I would need to stand here for 1,707 years to wholly become a part of this landscape. Add another 50 years for the thick soles of my wellies.

I guess I’ll just have to be content with walking on water.

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1
NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1