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“Musings about Lichen”

It’s January, the sun is shining, the grass is green and growing, and the air is warm and still.  Though I miss the snow of Montana, the sight of my goats browsing the meadow’s treeline fills the void nicely.  Rüma and Tisl are now less than 60 days from kidding.  The fresh forest browse is excellent for their health.  I’m beginning to see kid bulges on their petite frames.  I tame my excitement for kids simply because there’s no telling what will happen between now and birthing, as well as after birthing.  You learn a sort of patience from hatching so many bird eggs, I think.  You can’t count your chicks til they’re out and running around!

Tisl and ‘Roy in the forest

We wander the forest together on still, sunny days.  I can’t leave them unattended in the trees- on stake out lines for example- because the coyotes and cats here are thick.  Around the holidays I found a fresh set of small cougar tracks checking my goat barn out.  There’s also rumored to be a large black bear boar in my neck of the woods.  While I’m not afraid of these predators, none of them would pass up a chance  to chew on goat who is defenseless and tethered to a tree!  So moderated forest browsing only.  It’s different out  in the meadow where Toli the Dog can keep a weather eye on large swathes of turf for any unwelcome visitors.

I took a walk through the trees at the edge of the meadow the other day.  I was out with a purpose; lichen harvesting.   It was well timed, too!  I picked about a gallon of Usnea lichen, intending  to bolster my stores, and coincidentally sold half of it that day!  Excellent!

As I wandered through the trees nabbing choice bunches of Usnea,  I wondered many  things.  I had read that lichen is what happens when fungus decides to farm. Mycelium can’t photosynthesize.  So it teams up with moss-  how I’m s till not quite  sure- and together they grow  lichens.  Lichen,  from what  I  understand, does photosynthesize.  The mycelium provides it with moderated  moisture  and  in exchange the lichen feeds it carbohydrates from its photosynthesis.   Lichen is a  carb farm for  fungus. I’m s still unclear what role the moss plays, I need to keep reading and commit more to memory.  Regardless, I meandered through the damp trees along the creek, filling my sack with lichen, and thought about what kind of impact I was making on the mycelium.  Here it had millions of tiny crops established.  Millions of carbohydrate factories.  The relationship was so lush and pristine, and here I was messing it all up!

Gobs of usnea intermingling with moss and other lichens

I personified the mycelium; I envisioned mycelium gathering  at the local rural tavern, as human farmers would, and talking about current events.  First I envisioned them up in arms, griping about how this dadgum human showed up and stole their crops.  Then I wondered if I was their biggest concern or not.  How often do humans really go out of their way to pick lichen these days, at least in  my part of the world?    If anything, the mycelium must have been shocked; “What on earth is  this human doing?!  They never touch our lichen!”.  I wondered what pests they must complain about the most.  Deer and elk, I imagine.  I know goats are fond of some lichens and will devour them with pleasure.

Such musings open up new ways of thinking.  You’re suddenly not alone in the woods.  You’re not wandering through a long-forgotten, overgrown patch of wilderness.  The locals are watching you and the residents have been long established.  You’re simply a visitor that they get to gossip about later on.

So I decided to start  an experiment.  I wanted  to know just how much I am or am not damaging the carb-crops we call Usnea, Oak Moss, Witch’s Hair, etc.   I will reserve a special patch of usnea and harvest several clumps in a variety of ways.  If, for example, I find that harvesting usnea without tearing it off the tree by the root leads to a repair and regrowth of the lichen body that is faster than establishing fresh growth, I will strive to harvest in that manner.

Much as I have experimented with my impacts of harvesting herbs from local patches  and populations, it’s time to give the same time and attention to my impact  on the lichen!


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