If I could learn
every species of moss
In Britain I would know 763 names.
A bardic task and a half and did those old bards
know the distinct differences between
the acrocarps and pleurocarps,
let alone the Andreales, the Bryales,
the Dicranales, the Grimmiales, the Hypnales,
the Orthotricales and Polytrichales?
We will never know how they named
the mosses and how they remembered them
but might imagine that they asked bardic questions
like “name the three pocket mosses in my pocket”:
Fissidens viridulus ‘Green pocket-moss’
Fissidens pusillus ‘Petty pocket-moss’
Fissidens bryoides ‘Lesser pocket-moss’
and “name the three beard mosses that grow in my beard”:
Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum ‘Red beard-moss’
Bryoerythrophyllum ferruginascens ‘Rufous beard-moss’
Pseudocrossidium revolutum ‘Revolute beard-moss’
and “name three mosses that have swan’s necks”:
Campylopus flexuosus ‘Rusty swan-neck moss’
Campylopus fragilis ‘Brittle swan-neck moss’
Campylopus setifolius ‘Silky swan-neck moss’
and “name three mosses that look like feathers”:
Kindbergia praelonga ‘Common feather-moss’
Bracythecium rutabulum ‘Rough-stalked feather-moss’
Brathythecium velutinum ‘Velvet feather-moss’.
Of course we know they did not use binomial names,
that the coming of the Romans was the death of the druids
if not of the bards, who lived on to learn Latin, Greek,
survived the Anglo-Saxons to learn the meaning
of grimm, if not of Johann Friedrich Carl Grimm and Grimmia:
Grimmia laevigata ‘Hoary grimmia’
Grimmia pulvinata ‘Grey-cushioned grimmia’
Grimmia decipiens ‘Great grimmia’.
Somewhere between these names
the magic is coming back – I can feel it
whenever a word and a moss I have found connect.
My field guide is like some archaic text.
‘Pleurocarps with straight, nerved leaves
Brachythecium, Eurynchium, Homalothecium
Pleurocarps with curved, nerved leaves
Scorpidium, Craetoneuron filicinum’
charming me like some ancient spell,
leading me onward on my quest.
If I could learn