Monday, June 18, 2012


Last spring a group of students and another faculty member and I made a monthly transect of the campus, walking the same rough line from its staid southern border standing shoulder to shoulder with two private schools to the muddy hillside of brambles that marks its northernmost point. Our tramp took us past the theater, Goodhart, where the early 20th century snowflakes on the facade faintly foreshadowed a magnificent colony of lichen that decorates the fence surrounding the next touch point, the college's pond.

The pond reminded me in many ways of the Moss Temple outside Kyoto I visited last year. The constructed water feature, deliberated shaped, now shaped in turn by what it contains. The beautiful garden of lichen growing on the fence that rings it, themselves containers shaped by an invisible, ongoing dance. Fungi and bacteria well wed, presenting to us as one, the history of their marriage obscured.

There is something apt about lichen growing at a liberal arts college for women. Beatrix Potter, beloved for her tales of Peter Rabbit, was the biologist who first twigged to the hidden duality. In 1897 her paper to that effect was read at the Linnean Society. In thos days, being male trumped being a biologist, so a chemist (her uncle) read her paper, and responded to questions.

Potter was a field biologist who wrote children's books. I wonder how symbiotic her two natures were. Were they as well wed as her beloved lichens? I wonder how many women still take on the lichens' sensibilities, multiple organisms bound into one, inseparable, yet not quite indistinguishable. How well wed are my personae?


  1. What a wonderful image! I have long loved lichen without knowing anything about its biology. My favorite time for a walk in the woods is very early spring when everything else is still brown and gray. The lichen and fungus stand out and assume a central role that will later be obscured by the lush green underbrush and canopy that overwhelms and camouflages these more subtle forest organisms.

  2. The imagery of the lichen, the bacteria and fungi is beautiful. So powerful and so beautiful!