Elizabeth Gilbert, the patron saint of the self-help memoir, astounded me with this vast novel that spans generations and decades.
Alma, a woman born in 1800 is not one you would expect to become a scientist, but a scientist she became, through means of wealth and class. She first finds herself focusing on Botany, as her father did, then narrows her study to mosses, and studies moss for twenty five years. Alma articulates that there are a variety of times – human time, cosmological time, divine time, geological time, moss time. Science and creation take time, plants need care and the study of them brings wonder and deep understanding.
“Alma loved botany, more by the day. It was not so much the beauty of plants that compelled her as their magical orderliness. Alma was a girl possessed by soaring enthusiasm for systems, sequence, pigeonholing, and indexes; botany provided ample opportunity to indulge in all these pleasures. She appreciated how, once you had put a plant into the correct taxonomical order, it stayed in order. There were serious mathematical rules inherent in the symmetry of plants, too, and Alma found serenity and reverence in these rules. In every species, for instance, there is a fixed ratio between the teeth of the calyx and the divisions of the corolla, and that ratio never changes. One could set one’s clock to it. It was an abiding, comforting, unfaltering law.”
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