Lichen Enthusiast

Every time I read Sy Montgomery’s words, whether in her books or on her social media accounts, I fall in love with some new piece of nature. This time it is: lichen.

Recently, I read that she referred to an expert and professor as a “lichen enthusiast.” The title tickles me. Immediately I, too, want to be known as a lichen enthusiast, a champion of the unnoticed, a proponent of small and useful.

Maybe you already knew that this is lichen:

lichen decorating tree bark

I have passed it and admired its shades of green, blue, and yellow many times. But I did not know I was admiring lichen. According to Montgomery, it is often mistaken for tree moss, but it is actually not a moss at all. It is made up of both fungus and algae and has a very benign relationship with the trees it graces.

This makes me wonder what else I might be seeing every day without really seeing. Of what else might I become an enthusiast?

One day, after a rain, I became a fallen leaf enthusiast.

colorful leaves on wet pavement

Another day, when the sun was an enormous orange ball at the end of the block, I quickly became a sunset enthusiast.

the orange ball of sun in the distance appeared so much larger in person

Most days, I am a bee enthusiast, though I prefer not to study them in large groups.

a bee hard at work on goldenrod

Often, I am an unidentified berry enthusiast.

berries against blue sky

Today, I was a shadows on fences enthusaist.

shadows of leaves along the fence

Montgomery reminds me not only to notice and be curious, but to allow myself to be easily enthused by the simple joys of our natural world.

Rethinking Fall

“In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die.”

Parker Palmer, “The Paradox of Fall”

Like Parker Palmer, when I think of fall, I think of trees changing color and dropping leaves. What I don’t usually think of is the way those fallen leaves are a signal that seeds have been dropped. Seeds that will quietly persist all winter awaiting the warmth of spring to sprout.

I wonder though, if my heart has secretly known about the beginnings of fall all along, even though my conscious mind has taken so many years to catch up.

While out walking in these last few days before the official start of the fall season, my dog has been discovering these:

a snakeskin
a snakeskin

It seems to me that a snakeskin is the perfect symbol of the new beginnings of fall.

Snakes shed their skin when they have outgrown it. Curious about the variation in the scale pattern on each individual skin (sometimes almost like rings, sometimes a perfect pattern of scales), I did some light research. I discovered the shed skin is twice as long as the snake from which it came because the skin peels off from the top and bottom of each scale. I found this reassuring as I was definitely more excited about finding the empty skins than I am about finding the inhabitants of snakeskin!

A snake’s skin can only stretch but so much before it must be shed to make room for continued growth. While the concept of shedding skin is not unique to snakes (humans and other animals shed skin all the time to grow new layers), this ritual of shedding the skin all at once is definitely something to marvel at.

It makes me think of the beginning of a new school year each fall. The skin of the previous year is shed and left behind to make room for new identities and new growth. How marvelous it is to have so much potential!

Now, while I am walking through the woods this fall, I will no longer be thinking of the quiet loss of energy as leaves pile up at my feet. Rather, I will listen to my heart remind me of the seeds being planted. The glistening new snakes emerging ready to grow bigger, stronger, wiser.

I will think about the way classrooms in the fall are filled with a similar planting of seeds whose growth may not be visible for months. And whose potential is already signaled by beautiful, colorful leaves.

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I Wear Shoes in the House

I wear shoes every day. Even though the shoes do not go outside.

My parents always wore shoes in the house. They owned their own business and worked from home most of my life. I used to think it was embarrassing. I always had to remove my shoes in the house when visiting friends. When my family had visitors, my parents would insist they leave their shoes on. Now I get it.

I wear shoes every day. All day. 

worn-in, polka dot walking shoes

But not my worn-in, polka-dot walking shoes. Those shoes are reserved for outdoor adventures with Yago. Those shoes trigger tail wags and hopeful eyes. Those shoes would be a distraction if worn indoors for longer than the time it takes to put a harness and leash on a wiggling, joy-filled pup.

I wear shoes every day. In the house.

Not slippers. Because shoes do not go with pajamas. Shoes are a cue to the body, mind, and spirit that it is time for business. And the business of teaching is currently happening from the comfort of home.

gold shoes

I wear shoes every day. No matter what.

Because putting shoes on completes an outfit. There are no loose ends left hanging. One thing feels finished, and I am free to move forward to the next. 

I wear shoes every day. 

It almost feels normal. It almost feels like the natural order of things to wear shoes in the house like my parents always did. It almost feels like I am supposed to be living this routine. Almost. 

white shoes

I wear shoes every day. Even though.

Because a day with red shoes is better than a day without.

red shoes