Reflection 303: Wildness III

August 8, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.    [With 8 photos.]

Lichens don’t consume much; they live on sunlight, air, and water. We can’t use the energy in sunlight directly like they can, so need to eat all kinds of go-betweens that rely on photosynthesis to store the energy we need. Even so, it’s good to live where lichens live because they can’t tolerate polluted air. I think we sense that intuitively because lichens strike us as beautiful, so they attract us to places with clean air. And warn us away from places where they don’t grow—such as cities and industrial areas. Lichens, rich soil, and fresh water are conveyors of the ancient code that guided us in seeking a place to settle down. Together, they are the emblem of wildness, and we ignore their message at our peril.

The following photos suggest both their variety and their wild beauty. The first one is reindeer lichen amid hair-cap moss. The second is cloud lichen. The third, old man’s beard.

P1010297 96-lichen-7 P1010419 96-lichen-3 P1010322 96-lichen-5P1010455 96-lichen-6 P1010302 96-lichen-7P1010423 96-lichen-2P1010428 96-lichen-1P1010416 96-lichen-4 These last are called fairy goblets. Their shape suggests their symbiotic partnership with fungi, which they resemble somewhat. I call the ones before that elephant ears, which can be over six inches across. They dissolve minerals from the rocks they grow on, and over time serve as agents of erosion.

Engaging with lichens reminds me how wild we iPad-tapping modern humans really are at the core of our being. The image of ourselves as man-the-wise is only skin deep; the organization of our innards and our brains exists more on the lichen level of organic life. It’s good to remember that we aren’t the only wonders around. For all our computer skills, we can’t live on a diet of sunlight and water, which lichens can.

Thoreau wrote in his journal, “I wish my neighbors were wilder” (February 27, 1851). I find that wildness within me when I respond to the likes of lichens in my surroundings. Responding on that level, I feel truly alive—as I don’t when tapping at a keyboard.

Enough tapping for one day. Y’r fellow earthling, –Steve

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