It is merely
a question of continuous
adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends
or the easing of a wind
against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence,
never and always at home.
~John McCullough from “Lichen”
We are lichens on a grand scale.
Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!
Why are they doing this?
In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny?
~Lew Welch from “Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen”
The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.
The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen “Lichen Cup”
I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of 63 years, and on this farm for 24 years. The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between. I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms. There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.
This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.
I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are. I had walked right by their rich color and texture.
Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business. As John McCullough says, they thrive happily where they find themselves “never and always true to their essence, never and always at home.”
But what is life to a lichen?
Yet its impulse to exist,
is every bit as strong as ours —
arguably even stronger.
If I were told that I had to spend decades
being a furry growth on a rock in the woods,
I believe I would lose the will to go on.