A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss?

I had never really thought about the meaning of the phrase "A rolling stone gathers no moss." On the latest cross-country jaunt, returning to Florida, I found myself contemplating this quite a bit. What was meant by "rolling stone" exactly? I'm reminded of those rocks in a desert somewhere that, due to wind patterns, appear to roll across the plains and flats. They aren't actually rolling forward of their own volition, but rather wind causes the sand to erode and the rock slowly "rolls forward". It's similar to when you stand on the beach and a wave breaks over your feet - as the water rushes back out to sea, it erodes the sand around your feet and you find yourself off-balance.

But these rocks "live" in extremely dry and windy locations. Moss tends not to grow in those locations as it is, so even the non-rolling stones of the area would "gather no moss". Obviously, that's not what was meant, but it's a start.

Where do stones regularly gather moss then? My thoughts go to the streams and brooks of childhood. Cool, clear water cutting through pine forest floors, replete with large rounded stones and giant boulders dropped by glaciers many thousands of years ago. There was certainly a lot of moss along those trout streams, making them slick and tricky to navigate. But I never really saw any of these stones "roll" on their own. It occurs to me, however, that the same process as the "rolling stones" of the desert undergo via wind erosion simply must happen within the turbulent streams of New Hampshire. As the water erodes the soil and sediment around the pebble or stone, the water's push against the stone becomes ever more difficult for the friction and gravity to withstand. Eventually, the stone will go tumbling downstream, settling in a new location where either the path is clogged with other stones and debris or the current subsides enough that the forces of gravity and friction can again take hold.

I like this idea. Not only does it bring to mind images of the beautiful rounded stones that massaged bare feet as I'd wade hip deep and cast my trout flies. It also brings to mind the idea of a great rushing current pushing us along toward some universal ocean, carrying sand and sediment over us, slowly eroding us until we've become round and our surfaces polished. To fight this constant current means being buried alive in the onslaught of sand and mud meant only to perfect us. And, if your head is above the proverbial water line, it means gathering moss.

So choosing to be like the "rolling stone" in the babbling brook that is life, "no moss" will be gathered. But what exactly is this moss? Is it material stuff? Is it emotional baggage? Of course it is. It's this and much more. The moss referred to here is composed of both good and bad things, like love and family, enemies and debts. It is all of the things we accumulate throughout life: savings accounts, family heirlooms, long time friendships or your favorite bench in the city park. Life, though, is constantly pushing us. Holding on to these things can be difficult in the rushing torrents of a spring flood. If we hold on too long, we can become buried and suffocated by the very things we hold on to.

So some of us just choose to "roll". We choose to let the current take us downstream, toward that mysterious unification where all the streams of life lead. On the way, we'll bump into many moss covered stones, making brief encounters with those who choose to hold on and stay put. Our journeys will often slow and even stop for a time as the current slacks during the dry months of the late summer. We'll often become tangled in the piles of debris during spring floods, or find ourselves washed up on the embankments after large, violent storms. But we always resume our journey to the sea. We always find our paths moving forward again.

And sometimes we find ourselves feeling envy for all that moss other stones have gathered. We dream of lives where we can settle in a small pool with a sandy bottom, gather moss and just take a break. Tumbling along with the current often seems more difficult than just staying put. But then the draw of the sea reminds us of why we choose to roll.

"A rolling stone gathers no moss," and this is a choice some of us have made.

So I'm back in Florida again. This is my 4th time here. Life, up to this point, has certainly been a wild ride. The journey to here has been rich and full of experience. I think, though, at this point, I'll stay put and rest for a while before the next storm carries me away again. It's good to catch your breath every now and then.