Lichen and Loss – What’s the Connection?

Playing the game Table Topics with friends, we went around the circle answering a select question.   “What would you like to do for a job that might surprise all of your friends?” 

One of the men in our group answered, “I’d be a farmer.”  Last week when we got together with Michael and his wife, he brought three coolers full of produce from his summer garden.  We laugh nicknaming him “Farmer Mike,” and bringing him closer to that reality.

I answered, “When Jeff and I finally retire and live up north at the lake, I want to give talks to children about the bugs, vegetation and animals that live in the forest.”  I went on to explain that since my childhood adventures in Pembine, Wisconsin, the natural world continues to amaze me.

The forest floor alone holds death and decay.  You see the after effects of severe conditions in fallen trees and animal carcasses.  When you explore it closely however, you see life in the form of slugs and bugs and tiny, multi-legged insects that provide food for birds and animals.  The cycle of life is present right before your eyes.

The heavy snowfall this winter made for a very wet spring this year in Northern Wisconsin.  The wet ground and muggy heat has produced a hearty supply of lichen that covers the tree bark and coats the rotting logs fallen in the woods.

Lichen is a combination of algae and moss, intertwining so closely it cannot be separated.  Although it seems to invade a tree’s bark, it does not damage the bark or invade its root system.  

Tree covered with lichen, Northern Wisconsin

Tree covered with lichen, Northern Wisconsin

There are hundreds of species of lichen, each slightly different in color, texture and feel; yet, each are an intricate pattern of living organisms.

So, what does this have to do with grief?

  1. Grief, like lichen is a combination of things – grief is the physical, emotional, and spiritual reaction to a loss.
  2. Just like lichen attaches itself to bark or stone, grief feels like it permeates everything – that we can’t separate ourselves from it no matter what we do.
  3. Grief seems to live in a wet environment, tears spill out easily – dampening our spirits.
  4. Like the various species of lichen, each person’s grief has a different color, a different set of characteristics that make it unique to the person.

There is a commonality that amazes me the most about lichen and grief:

A tree can continue to grow even though lichen completely covers its bark.

A human can sustain multiple losses and yet survive, and even thrive.

Neither grief nor lichen can be picked off, scrubbed off or killed off completely. Like the tree that takes on the characteristic color, texture and life of the lichen attached to it, we too learn to adapt, coexist and continue to live with life’s losses.


This entry was posted in Gifts from Nature, Grief, grieving, growth, Inspiration, Life's Losses, Nature, Wisconsin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Lichen and Loss – What’s the Connection?

  1. suzjones says:

    Fantastic analogy. 🙂

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