Wandering in temple gardens, my eyes are always unintentionally attracted to the ground, in search of the mosses carpeting the trees and stones. These velvet-like mosses are micro but unproportionately strong. Humbly covering corners of the ground, their subtlety sometimes leave them with no attention at all.
The beauty of moss is for sure its tranquility; it doesn’t sway in the wind, it doesn’t bears flowers all year round. With the adequate amount of humidity, its crisp greenness stays all the same. However, with different shades of sunlight, the unchanging moss appears slightly different. It looks sparky on sunny days, and brownish during cloudy winter times.
Moss is an indispensable component in Japanese gardens. Rock stay firm and steady against any change in climate and weather, providing the perfect surface for different types of moss to grow. Looking at the delicate greenness blanketing the solid rock, Japanese see moss as something that grows from inside of the rock. They believe moss depicts the nature of rock in an alternative form. Trees are necessary for any garden, but visitors’ fondness is not limited to the actual trees; the shadow of trees is equally praiseworthy, if not even more deeply adored sometimes. The space cooled by the shade of trees is also a perfect place for moss to grow. The green bedding of mosses outlines the trajectory of a tree’s life like an artwork created by mother nature.
I once visited Saihō-ji, which is also known as Koke-dera (the moss temple), on a late autum afternoon. A morning rain gave the afternoon a rather livid sun. A layer of fog floated above the temple pond, pieces of small maple leaf were blown off by the rainy wind and lied on the natural carpet of mosses. In between the ashy green leaves and shadow of trees, the green moss carpet was decorated by dots of red maple leaves, together they created an refinement that is somehow beyond human’s creation.
Wabi-sabi taught generations of Japanese to appreciate and admire the uncontrollable beauty and inaccessible grace of things. Moss is an unhinged plant that grows freely with any suitable climate and humidity, together with its modest and peaceful nature, it is not difficult to understand Japanese’s love for this small plant.