When the Harvest is Slow to Come


In her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of MossesRobin Wall Kimmerer describes “Life in the Boundary Layer”—a place where mosses grow and thrive. The boundary layer is the space where earth and air meet. Mosses aren’t the only thing that thrive in the boundary layer. Humans experience it when we lie on our backs, sun on our faces, looking at clouds. We experience it when we allow the earth to hold us, the air to soothe us. If we were caught in a storm, the boundary layer would give us warmth and safety.

We are currently transitioning from school to summer and all the expectations and scheduling changes that go with that. When I look back on this past school year, I was far less productive than I was hoping to be. Instead of checking off all my hopes and plans, I found myself in a season of quiet and learning. I went on a pilgrimage that continues to reframe and push my thinking. I took a class that pushed and reframed my thinking. I read books that made me confront what I thought I knew and how far I thought I had come.

And beyond those tangible experiences, I found my everyday rhythms quieting and slowing down. I fought against this new pace, thinking I was in a slump or too distracted or too lazy to accomplish all I was imagining. I felt frustrated and hopeless.

A friend and I talked about harvests and how sometimes the harvest takes a long time. I think about the fruit trees in our yard and the years it takes them to grow to an age of production. Even then, anything can impact the harvest—an early frost, a fallow year, squirrels and birds. We aren’t guaranteed anything. Even these metaphors were less-than comforting.

And then I opened my copy of Gathering Moss and found what I was looking for. Not only does Kimmerer talk about the boundary layer, she talks about the slowness of moss growth. Patterns are traced over years; colonies expand by centimeters, not by acres. And yet mosses are the oldest and must sustaining plant on our earth. They were here long before our fruit trees and vegetables and will be here long after.

I’m learning from the mosses in this season. I’m finding myself more connected to these ancient leaves who intertwine and cohabit in unlikely places. I’m remembering that not all of life is about my active hand in the work of taking from the earth. Maybe I need to learn from the ancient mosses, the most prolific of plants who can survive drought and flood without human intervention. Mosses slowly trap topsoil and create fertile soil in barren lands. Mosses give life by allowing foreign seeds to nestle into their leaves. Mosses take the longview of growth and life, unhurried by yearly cycles.

As we approach summer, I’m remembering to find holiness in the boundary layer. I’m hoping to close my journal and lay in the grass, face to the sky, held by the earth. I’m putting aside goals and to-do lists and remembering the slow growth that happens to build topsoils.

Who knows? Maybe this summer will continue this season of quiet and slow generating ideas. Or maybe I’ll discover that the soil has built up enough to hold a seed and that seed will germinate. Either way, I want to notice this rootedness and comfort of the place I’m in right now.