The Sweet, Mossy Smell of Success

May 2022

by Suez Jacobsen

Success. What does it look like, in the press, on the tube? Is it big and bold, loud and seen? Or when you think of success, do mosses come to mind?

Mosses? Did I say mosses?

Most of us aren’t botanists, so what might come to mind when we read the word “success” is probably not mosses. It’s typically more in tune with a magazine titled Success. This particular publication emphasizes keeping up, staying relevant, cultivating lifestyles of consumption, and using insights from the “greatest achievers” including “top CEOs.”

Another indicator of how we are often told to think about success can be found in an online thesaurus, where there are 47 synonyms for success, including the words fame, gain, profit, triumph, victory, and win. ”Mosses” doesn’t show up.

It’s Robin Wall Kimmerer who tells us about mosses. She reminds us that we live in a world where contentment is confused with more, and better is confused with bigger. These are the ideas that have brought us to the precipice of climate change catastrophe. She tells us it’s time to turn to plants, our “wise elders” who have been around a lot longer than we have. If wisdom comes with age, turning to plants for life lessons and help with solving the climate crisis is surely a route to a deeper, longer lasting, and more meaningful definition of success.

And mosses—those tiny, sometimes iridescent plants—have a long history of success. They cover everything and live everywhere—even in the desert, having survived multiple extinctions and making minimal demands on resources. Mosses model living with “enoughness” rather than more. This is the lesson of success we need to learn. 

Listen to Robin’s penetrating essay, “Ancient Green” for a fascinating moss education.