Month: December 2015

Winter Lichens

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Today a friend and I walked to the top of Black Hawk rock. A light snow still covered shady areas, the sun was low in the sky and gray-blue clouds scattered into the distance. There was no wind, no birds singing. A flock of turkeys walked across the ridge above us making clucky noises. As we climbed up the west side of the hill, the colors of tree trunks, fallen leaves, and rocks seemed to get brighter and brighter. Greens, blues, white, yellow. Lichens! If they could sing, they probably would be doing a hallelujah chorus today. Everything is saturated from many days of rain and light snow, and the temperatures have been above or near freezing, and nothing else is growing to block the light. The Little Ones are feeling good! The forest is full of living, growing plants in the middle of winter. They are all very tiny and all they need is moisture, light and above freezing temperatures to flourish while all other plants and most animals are dormant.

Green and blue lichen covered pieces of bark scattered on the ground from a fallen branch.

BHrock lichen 16 bark on ground

Part way up the hill a tree trunk was lined with white stripes. From smooth white layers to toothed patches this fungus (possibly Irpex lacteus) changed shape and finally supported small white fungus with purple red undersides.

BHrock w side tree Irpex lacteus.jpg

Moss, liverworts and lichens crowded branches and then rocks as we climbed onto the top of the ridge.

BHrock view 7 south.jpg

At the top we stand on the rocky point and the whole Kickapoo valley falls away into the distance; to the east, south and west. The sun breaks through clouds illuminating the far reaches of the valley and fallow fields turned golden. Juniper and oak cling to bare rock here and the lichen cling to the trees and rock. Every living thing is attached to another living thing. Snow and lichen share the rough branches. Some of the lichen are frozen solid but close to them others are soft and flexible. The cup shaped lichen are frozen solid, the liverworts, moss and flat green lichen are not, in the picture below.

BHrock lichen 6 w side of hill frozen

BHrock lichen 5

The rock at the top of the cliff feels many footsteps over  time but lichen are everywhere here. Gray, yellow, orange, blue, green, purple, white; the rock looks painted with lichens. We look down across the valley and realize that much of the color we see in the landscape is the color of the lichen and mosses that are an essential part of the system of lives that make our world alive. The white and pale green colors of branches in the treetops are lichen; the yellow, gold, green and black of rock faces are lichens, and their companions the moss and liverworts.

We ended the day walking through a field of big bluestem and other prairie plants, now golden and coppery in the sun. We know tomorrow the Little Ones will be frozen and dormant under the coming snowstorm; but as soon as the sun touches them again they will come back to life.

BHrock field 3 afternoon 12-27-15.jpg

PS: My attempts to name species is open for corrections and suggestions. We are working on learning to identify lichen (and fungi and moss) so at this time are making guesses at best. If you know what a lichen or plant is in one of these pictures, please let us know what you think.




Lichen Poetry

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This is a small poem by Pablo Neruda, who was exquisitely observant of the world he inhabited. Does anyone else have a lichen poem? Send it to us!

Lichen on Stone

Llichen on stone; the web

of green rubber

weaves an old hieroglyphic,

unfolding the script

of the sea

on the curve of a boulder.

The sun reads it. The mollusk devours it.

Fish slither

on stone, with a bristling of hackles.

An alphabet moves in the silence,

printing its drowned incunabula

on the naked flank of the beaches.

The lichens

climb, higher, plaiting and braiding, piling

their nap in the caverns of ocean and air, coming

and going, until nothing may dance but the wave

and nothing persist but the wind.

-Pablo Neruda