The definition of “emerald” is, for me, a mossy rock in the woods. I walk down the rail trail through the forest in the midday heat where the only sounds are my footfalls and the thronging buzz of Neotibicen lyricen, the Lyric Cicadas in the trees. Their tiny tymbals fill the heat like a synesthesia of temperature into song.
On either side of me rise up walls of rock – some old blasting must have flattened this trail of former industry between the drifts and diluvium of Laurentide ice. Shist; limestone; dolostone; quartz; shale. Deposits from a mere 22,000 years when our New York glacial coverlet rearranged the earth.
Here I stop in a cool pocket of shade to admire and absorb the emerald city. All the colors of green infuse the layered rock walls,
the trees and the earth: the pale aqua lichen, the bruised blackish treebark, the bright and shadowed vegetable leaves, and the emerald of the moss.
Who’s to say there’s not as much magic here as in Oz? My father used to say we don’t recognize the magic around us because we call it science; we’re just used to it. I’m standing here listening for a tin woodsman to ask me for his heart. I have it here. It’s an emerald.
Ages past – more than 250 million years –these muzzy green bryophytes first appeared, having evolved from ancestors twice as old. First out of the sea to soften earth for oncoming life. Without roots, without vessels, and leaves a single cell thick – a throwback to an earlier Eden. The mosses cling to the rock with hair-like rhizoids, making life out of water and air.
There is nothing individual about moss. It lives en masse and takes nothing from its host, spreading too slowly for humans to see. Moss is the essence of stillness, making that which is too hard soft again. Its deeply vibrant vert is a feast for the eyes, spelling its own peculiar language in the dips and falls and rises across the rock face. It speaks to me.
Here I stand for a minute, or an hour, till my feet tell me it’s time to move on. I click my ruby heels and head for home, gathering messages and taking tales to my young coniferous friends, my tweedledee oaks and silky beech, the shimmering, arch birch, my waving hollyhocks and gladiolus.