Ice, moss and meditations on impermanence with Connie Sobchak

My friends and I were running through the mossy woods, trending up towards the paraglide launch and catching up on each other’s lives when the incline allowed. In the back of my mind was an image: a spiral of moss captured in ice, seemingly lit from within. I had been wondering for days how I would convey the thoughts I had while processing these photos, and then my friend began to tell us about No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh. She spoke of the concept of the impermanence of all things and while we joked about how permanent the lactic acid buildup in our legs felt and of how if everyone that ever lived is all around us, some were very good at hiding, I also thought that the ice shrouded moss had seemed to reveal a day or two of permanence, at least.

ice and moss by connie sobchak

I visited the icicle wall three times over the course of a week when the air was snappy and the sky was sharply blue. At this time of year, no sun reached the spot until three in the afternoon. The images without sun were interesting but it wasn’t until there was an interplay of bright sunlight that the shots came alive, revealing the worlds and beings I had sensed existing in the ice.

embedded in ice by connie sobchak

So when my running companion spoke of how everything is connected to everything else, I couldn’t help but think of a vignette from the ice pictures and the concept it created in my mind: Here is a being, rising in the light, a hastily scribbled message near its feet and, oh, my goodness, there is a face, disappearing to the left. The ice held secrets and the sunlight exposed them.

by connie sobchak

When I got home I enjoyed my fanciful story yet the practical side of me tried to find a scientific explanation of how light prisms work in ice and of how moss can stay green year-long.   I discovered that moss may have been responsible for an ice age because it prevented the earth from drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Moss apparently descended from algae and has been around for hundreds of millions of years so its existence seems pretty permanent, yet, of course, each moss plant is new and each cell in each moss plant is transforming and like most things, the harder you try to pin it down, the slipperier it gets. Just try pondering impermanence and you’ll see what I mean. And yet, fortunately, our minds seem able to hang onto ideas long enough for us to formulate world views and hold them up to the light to consider. If we’re lucky, our legs are strong enough to transport us to places of great beauty and our friendships close enough that we can navigate a universe of impermanence with gratitude in our hearts.


The ice wall is still there, though each day, more moss is freed from its mini ice age. The images I think I captured remain but whenever I show them to other people, they see something different than I do, which makes sense-aren’t we all just trying to hold onto that which is transient long enough to take a breath and say, there, I finally get it before it slides into that which is all and nothing at the same time?

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