October 20, 2010

A Walk in the Woods: Painted by Lichens

When I take my daily walk in the woods these days, it is a very noisy stroll: the path is covered with browning fallen leaves, which are tossed and crunched, rustling and crackling, with every footstep; childhood memories re-emerge of splashing through piles of raked leaves. With the waning color of leaves comes an awareness of more subtle coloration on trees and rocks: the swaths, splotches and spots of lichens. Above, a tree trunk is covered in a beautiful pale green, as though a woodsman had come through the forest with a bucket of paint and large brush, marking certain trees.

Rocks too have their own lichens, from warm to cool bluish greens. The warm green on the lower rock is, I believe, a moss. They are all richly patterned on the rocks piled along a wall.

On a large old tree that I pass each day is a dusting of intense lime green lichen at its base. The color is so brilliant and seemingly out of place; I haven't seen this lichen anywhere else but on this one tree. We can almost imagine, looking at the photo, that we're seeing a satellite view of a mountainous tropical landscape.

I love the way the irregular patches of white lichens are arrayed on the rocks along with cool and darker greens; I can see an abstract painting, the various textures playing off against the gently sloping diagonals, creating a vigorous composition.

And here, a very subtle painting, of whites, grays, and soft reds, and for contrast, a corner of rich green (moss? liverwort?). The colors, alone and in relation, of the lichens are an inspiration, and I make a note to myself to pay attention to them.


  1. I've been trying to grow a moss garden in my backyard for a few years. I have some moss so consider what I have a success. Mainly the tall oak trees suck all the water out of the ground and then in the fall, I'm out trying to keep the ground clear of leaves and other debris. But the real reason I wrote is to say wear a hat and beware of falling acorns. They hurt when they hit one in the head. Cool blog! Sincerely, from a moss lover.

  2. welcome, wetoilpaint. I've never tried planting mosses, but many grow in my yard on their own. I wonder if you've read Robin Wall Kimmerer's book "Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses", which is a terrific book, a series of fascinating essays on mosses. As for the acorns, we don't have oak trees in the woods around here in northern Vermont, so no worries.

  3. Thanks for the welcome. I just came across your most interesting blog last night. What an enjoyable experience.I am a fan, so, very happy to meet your acquaintance online.

    I haven't read Robin's book and thank you for introducing me to her essays. I will put this on my reading list as I find the subject of mosses interesting.

    My moss just started growing in the yard. I've just spread it around by sweeping the ground after a rain. This technique is working to build bigger moss area although in patches.

    It is a shame oaks do not grow everywhere. They are very beautiful trees. In the summer they provide the kind of shade one can enjoy to cool off from oppressive southern heat. In the fall they are a tree to be wary of fallen acorns. Not only will the acorns hit you in the head but the roundish shape of acorns on the ground can cause you to slip and slide while walking. It can be like walking on a floor covered in marbles.

  4. Love seeing your take on lichens. Yes, the last one is a lovely painting. I am surprised how many lichen were in AZ, but unfortunately my camera was without battery power when I was walking yesterday. I had to hold those lichen spottings in my mind's eye.

  5. thanks Maggie. I think that lichens can be found pretty much everywhere; they're pretty tough.