There is a time in the afternoon in deep winter when, if the sun is out, the moss on the surface of the balustrade of Queen Anne boulevard goes into high definition and turns iridescent. It is green beyond belief. It looks like a thick carpet, but with a lumpy, irregular surface and little whiskery shoots bristling among the prominences.
Moss is ubiquitous in the northwest. It covers everything. Roofs, walls, trees, gables, gallstones, gargoyles, garages. Moss loves moisture. And there is plenty of moisture in the northwest. The northwest is to moisture what mecca is to Islam. What ovals are to eggs. What monuments are to wars. What shadows are to light. If moss were a form of credit, it would be the International Exchange of the global credit default swap swamp.
But moss is insistently, consistently moss. That’s what makes moss, moss. To compare moss to something else is to lose the mossness of moss.
I am charmed by moss. It is original and massive. It spreads like a superstition throughout all the balustrades and coffeehouse bricks of the dripping northwest.
It feels like an animal. If you brush your hand over its surface very softly, it feels remarkably like fur.
If you get lost in the woods, look for moss on one side of the tree. That will be the north side of the tree. North, where the sunlight is blocked. Moss likes shade. It feeds on dark things, like the necropolis of the Etruscans.
The moss growing on the balustrade of 7th Avenue West seems anomalous in its obvious appreciation of sunlight. Is it a species apart from the usual moss that carpets the shady nooks and recesses of the Pacific Northwest?
Yesterday, I had to stop by the balustrade to tie my shoelace. I was doing my usual afternoon run and was moist beneath my running clothes. I felt the cold immediately. I raised my leg and positioned my foot in the hole of the balustrade. A sharp winter breeze blew through the hole. I looked to the west where the sun was already beginning to set. The light was sharp. The moss stood out in high relief, attracting my attention to the spot where I had rested my gloves, black wool against a patch of green iridescence. It felt like an elegy. A sweet rag of holy fuzz marking the end of a day in early January.