Lichens of Slide Mountain

“I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass,” wrote Walt Whitman (1818-1892) in his poem, The Song of Myself, an eerie echo of a theme in 13th century Japanese Zen literature:

There is a world of sentient beings in clouds. There is a world of sentient beings in the air. There is a world of sentient beings in fire…. There is a world of sentient beings in a blade of grass.

— Mountains and Wates Sutra, Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)

Could there be a world of sentient beings in a piece of lichen?

Last weekend my friend Steve Aaron and I had the privilege of accompanying nature photographer John Franklin on an expedition to Slide Mountain.  John is working on a book about New York lichens, and he kindly shared many observations with us as well as some spectacular photographs which are showcased below together with some apropos quotations from Henry David Thoreau.

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Nature Photographer John Franklin in action.  Credit:  Steve Aaron Photography

Thank you, John!


Granite-speck Rim-lichen (Lecanora polytropa)  Credit:  John Franklin

There is a low mist in the woods. It is a good day to study lichens. The view so confined it compels your attention to near objects, and the white background reveals the disks of the lichens distinctly. They appear more loose, flowing, expanded, flattened out, the colors brighter for the damp. The round greenish-yellow lichens on the white pines loom through the mist (or are seen dimly) like shields whose devices you would fain read. The trees appear all at once covered with their crop of lichens and mosses of all kinds, — flat and tearful are some, distended by moisture. This is their solstice, and your eyes run swiftly through the mist to these things only. Nature has a day for each of her creatures, her creations. To-day it is an exhibition of lichens at Forest Hall, the livid green of some, the fruit of others. They eclipse the trees they cover.

— Henry David Thoreau

Red-fruited Pixie Cup Lichen (Cladonia pleurota) Credit:  John Franklin


A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvellous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen.

— Henry David Thoreau


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Common Goldspeck Lichen (Candelariella vitellini)  Credit:  John Franklin

Feb. 7. Going along the Nut Meadow or Jimmy Miles road, when I see the sulphur lichens on the rails brightening with the moisture. I feel like studying them again as a relisher or tonic, to make life go down and digest well, as we use pepper and vinegar and salads. They are a sort of winter greens which we gather and assimilate with our eyes. That’s the true use of the study of lichens. I expect that the lichenist will have the keenest relish for Nature in her every-day mood and dress. To study lichens is to get a taste of earth and health, to go gnawing the rails and rocks. The lichenist extracts nutriment from the very crust of the earth. A taste for this study is an evidence of titanic health, a sane earthiness. It fits a man to deal with the barrenest and rockiest experience. A little moisture, a fog, or rain, or melted snow makes his wilderness to blossom like the rose. A lichenist fats where others starve.  His provender never fails.

— Henry David Thoreau


British Soldiers Lichen (Cladonia cristatella)  Credit:  John Franklin

For my part, I am trying to wake up, — to wring slumber out of my pores; for, generally, I take events as unconcernedly as a fence post, — absorb wet and cold like it, and am pleasantly tickled with lichens slowly spreading over me.

— Henry David Thoreau


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Powdered Sunshine Lichen (Vulpicida pinastri)  Credit:  John Franklin

The lichen on the rocks is a rude and simple shield which beginning and imperfect Nature suspended there. Still hangs her wrinkled trophy.

— Henry David Thoreau

Fishbone Beard Lichen (Usnea filipendula) .  Credit:  John Franklin

What is produced by a free stroke charms us, like the forms of lichens and leaves.  There is a certain perfection in accident which we never consciously attain.

— Henry David Thoreau

Yellow Ribbon Lichen (Unsocetraria oakesiana)  Credit:  John Franklin

When I walk in the woods, I am reminded that a wise purveyor has been there before me; my most delicate experience is typified there. I am struck with the pleasing friendships and unanimities of nature, as when the lichen on the trees takes the form of their leaves. In the most stupendous scenes you will see delicate and fragile features, as slight wreaths of vapor, dewlines, feathery sprays, which suggest a high refinement, a noble blood and breeding, as it were. It is not hard to account for elves and fairies; they represent this light grace, this ethereal gentility.


— Henry David Thoreau





Lichens of Slide Mountain

4 thoughts on “Lichens of Slide Mountain

  1. Dan Rosenthal says:

    Lung lichen is an interesting one to look for. It is supposed to be an indicator for good air quality. I’ve only seen it a couple times and once behind our camp in the Adirondacks.

    Liked by 1 person

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