Tiny, Ubiquitous Treasures

Big fast-moving things grab our attention: eagles, wolves, and cougars. But we miss much by overlooking tiny, stationary creatures around us.

The creatures I write about are everywhere—all habitats on all seven continents. And they have been with us since life first emerged from the oceans onto land.

They can lie dormant for over 40 years waiting for one drop of water and they are capable of that most miraculous of life processes: photosynthesis.

They contain no vascular tissue, no roots or leaves or stems, but mosses merit careful attention. On a cool Sunday morning deep in the Whidbey Institute woods twenty of us followed bryologist, Miles Berkey, around for two hours peering at these tiny treasures.

From Berkey’s website: http://www.knowingmoss.com we get a definition of mosses: “The small little green fuzzy stuff that grows on logs, rocks, in our lawns and on our roofs. This term can accidentally incorporate such things as lichens, algae, and other small vascular plants. . . The taxonomic name for moss is bryophyte, which when used, carries a greater accuracy, pertaining to all non-vascular land plants.”

The trip was sponsored by our local Whidbey Camano Land Trust, http://www.wclt.org, a remarkable organization that helps those of us living on the island preserve unique habitats through donations and work parties. And on days like this, they offer us an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of where we live.

Without further words, I share my enthusiasm through photos. One photo in particular is noteworthy—the final one. It was taken by my friend Whidbey Institute fellow, Larry Daloz, a fine bryologist in his own right.

The equipment needed for moss-peering, a hand lens

Ann looking through a hand lens at moss growing on an alder tree, photo by WCLT 

This is what Ann is looking at—Moss fruiting bodies











A stair step moss—each level represents one year’s growth



An “upright” tree moss with its miniature crown











Larry Daloz photo: Awned Hair cap (Politrichum pilfirum). Red cups are “splash cups” that host the sperm-producing antheridia. When it rains, they are splashed out to fertilize female archegonia. In this case the water had frozen and was in the process of melting.”






Where is my mother?

There are several children’s books by this title. Various cartoon animal-children, in search of their animal-mommies, inquire of other cartoon animals, “Have you seen my mommy?” I saw a book like this at the library and it raised the question for me about my own mother, now several months after her death.

My mother’s ashes were divided into four equal parts and given to each of her children. Together we threw some ceremoniously off the ferry into the waters of Georgia Strait on our way back from her memorial service. I put some into a small pouch that I wore next to my heart in the Seattle Women’s March on January 21st. That pouch now resides next to a photo of us, a little shrine near my writing desk. And I recently ordered a dozen “memory stones.” These are beautiful little disks (future talking pieces?) of  blown glass, with ashes that turn to bright, white sparkles. My

Her two favorite colors, and “her” in the center.

mother becomes a tiny galaxy to be distributed to grandchildren and friends.

These gestures give me peace of heart—but what I am enjoying most are all the other ways and places “she” shows up. Like the small wooden bench that sat for years by the entrance to her patio home, and then on her apartment balcony. Now it graces our remodeled bathroom and we use it every day, admiring its sturdiness and how well it held up from years outdoors before its pampered life indoors.

I am enjoying the fancy dishes, flowery Royal Doulton patterns bought right at the factory in England. When she offered them, I accepted with delight—under three conditions: “1. I’m going to use them every day; they are not going into a china cabinet (no I don’t want your cabinet). 2. I will put them in the dishwasher (though not the microwave), even the ones with gold trim. 3. Before they go into

Four-legged water saving device, prewash service.

the dishwasher, I’m going to let the dog lick them.” She winced, but handed them over. Genius on her part: I think of her every time I reach for them, which is several times a day.


Also in the kitchen, a metal garlic press from my childhood that still works better than any “new and improved” press I’ve bought over the years, and I’ve bought a number of them. This family heirloom will go to the niece or nephew who can make the best garlic-laced lasagna. There will be a cook-off before I pop off.

The list grows and shifts as I notice things, so only one more confession: some days I’m wearing her underpants. Silky, with lace trimmings, they are brand new, as she spent the last year of her life in adult diapers. The only drawback: they have a taped nametag on them from the care centre. If I’m ever in that proverbial car accident, it’s going to confuse the paramedics when my driver’s license says Christina Baldwin and my underwear says Connie McGregor.

I’ve been listening to more classical music this winter, wearing her sweaters and scarves and appreciating everything she did to urge along a sense of culture, style, and flair in her tomboy daughter.

About 20 years ago, I invited my mother to join a journal writing retreat I was leading at Hollyhock Farm in coastal British Columbia. She already lived in BC, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Ann Linnea and I were just settling on Whidbey.

I felt ready to call a circle in which my mother could sit among a sisterhood of writers and I could be the teacher and guide, my book Life’s Companion, would be the text. She was then just a few years older than I am now, newly widowed from her Canadian husband, and her mother had recently died at 106.

So we arrive at Hollyhock. I don’t remember our conversation, but were walking the wooded trails overlooking Desolation Sound. A day of blue sky and matching blue waters, islands dotting the sea, mountains in the distance. I began touching a trailing branch of cedar, “Mother,” I said softly. Then more conversation before touching a moss covered boulder, “Mother.” We walked on. Gesturing into the view I whispered, “Mother.”

I was trying to signal her, before she joined the class, that I had transferred the mother archeypte from her/personal to Gaia/transpersonal. After a while, she began to touch the greenery around us, and whisper with me, “Mother…” Mother Cedar. Mother Boulder. Mother Ocean. Mother Mountain.

Connie in a tree–about this time period.

I do not feel orphaned by her departure. My Mother is the Earth. I miss Connie/mom, think of her daily, and wonder how she is enjoying the whatever-comes-next that so fascinated her. My grief is primarily a peaceful ride. When I can calm my awareness, I look for signals coming through—something I thoroughly expect from her after all those years standing in my shoes trying to receive through the veil from her dearly departeds.

I was her firstborn, her “practice baby,” she said, the one she didn’t quite know what to do with. Our relationship was a long road, and it finished in beauty, peace, and open heartedness. That is sufficient. When I need to have a wee cry, I go down to the beach and nestle in amongst the drift logs and sand and am held. Mother Sea. Mother Sky. Mother Mountain. Mother Trees. Mother in my own heart.

Remember Beauty

In this time of fast-moving changes, dire predictions for the earth and ocean’s future, and political infighting that is, at best, unsettling, let us look to nature and poetry for reassurance.

William Wordsworth lived from 1770-1850, in far different times from ours. Yet, the first lines of one of his most famous poems is perfect for these times:

The World is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not . . .

When it became clear to me in February that Standing Rock would enter the phase of closing down the main camp and transitioning to an as of yet unknown new phase, I knew it was time to head to the snowy mountains and re-gain some perspective.

Ann cross-country skiing, photo by Carl Hoerger


Lots of snow in the mountains this year, photo by Ann Linnea










So much snow that campground structures have nearly disappeared, photo by Ann Linnea










And what is the perspective I gained . . . Remembering Beauty. It has returned as my daily guidepost. Thank you to long-time friends, Janelle and Carl, who reminded me of the joys of track skiing!

And with that, a little story from the closing days of Standing Rock’s Osceti-Sakowin Camp. During all of January and February a small crew of folks worked diligently to carefully salvage donated food and clothing. They drove it to nearby food banks and thrift stores. They worked in between blizzards. They worked during thaw and mud conditions. They needed more time than the Feb. 22 eviction gave them, but they did a valiant job.

May each of us continue to do our “one piece” of work diligently and carefully.

Ann happy in the snowy world, photo by Carl Hoerger