Paper pub. date
January 2003
ISBN 9780870714993 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870716416 (ebook)
6 x 9 inches, 176 pages. Line drawings. Index.

Gathering Moss

A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Winner of the 2005 John Burroughs Medal Award for Natural History Writing

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.

In this series of linked personal essays, Robin Wall Kimmerer leads general readers and scientists alike to an understanding of how mosses live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings. Kimmerer explains the biology of mosses clearly and artfully, while at the same time reflecting on what these fascinating organisms have to teach us.

Drawing on her diverse experiences as a scientist, mother, teacher, and writer of Native American heritage, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.

About the author

Robin Wall Kimmerer is Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental and Forest Biology and the founding Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. She is the author of the bestselling Braiding Sweetgrass.

Read more about this author

Preface: Seeing the World Through Moss-Colored Glasses

The Standing Stones

Learning to See

The Advantages of Being Small: Life in the Boundary Layer

Back to the Pond

Sexual Asymmetry and the Satellite Sisters

An Affinity for Water

Binding Up the Wounds: Mosses in Ecological Succession

In the Forest of the Waterbear



A Landscape of Chance

City Mosses

The Web of Reciprocity: Indegenous Uses of Moss

The Red Sneaker

Portrait of Splachnum

The Owner

The Forest Gives Thanks to the Mosses

The Bystander

Straw Into Gold

Suggestions for Further Reading


"Something I took for granted suddenly has come alive, because I have been given its story. After reading this book, I took a magnifying glass outside and pored over tree trunks. I have seen Robin Kimmerer's miniature landscape for myself. Yet, this is so much more than a book about mosses. This is a Native American woman speaking. This is a mother's story. This is science revealed through the human psyche. Robin Kimmerer is a scientist who combines empiricism with all other forms of knowing. Hers is a spectacularly different view of the world, and her true voice needs to be heard."

--Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home

"…[a] gem of a book."

--Library Journal

"Robin Kimmerer… has written as good a book as you will find on a natural history subject. You will want to go outside and get on your knees with a hand lens and begin to probe this Lilliputian world she describes so beautifully."

--Seattle Times

"It takes a certain kind of courage and passion to write an entire book on mosses… Kimmerer admirably rises to the challenge in her first book, Gathering Moss, opening up a world of rich surprises in the process. What we learn about mosses is breathtaking."


"An interesting account, both personal and exact, of an area of the vegetable kingdom that I often do not even notice… [a] passionate emphasis on something often most successfully appreciated by viewing through a microscope."

--Jamaica Kincaid, The New York Times Book Review

"Bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer may well be the next Annie Dillard. She is a wonderful wordsmith as well as a scientist, teacher, mother, and daughter of the Potawatomi tribe. Kimmerer brings all these levels of perception to the miniature landscapes she describes in this collection of essays."

--The Olympian

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