Since there is no Adventist Church on our island, Ole and I have been attending the Church of Scotland on Sundays and having our own worship services on Sabbath. This morning, however, we decided to join a nature group from the island on their monthly nature walk. This month, the topic was "Lichens", and I have never had anything to do with lichens. I really didn't think I would be very interested, but the walk was to be in the Ballachuan Woods, and I thought I would enjoy seeing the ancient, perhaps nine-thousand-year-old, stand of hazelwoods. At the edge of this wood is believed to be the location of a very early Christian church in Scotland, built by one of the early Irish missionaries to Scotland, Brendon, who lived in the 400's and 500's. We walked to the woods past the ancient stones.Raindrops Hanging From The Moss Stems
We met in the Church of Scotland churchyard, brought by our Ardara Cottage hosts and fellow "naturalists" and believers, Robert and Maura Rae. About seventeen people were gathered in the misty morning, all wearing Wellington boots and rain gear, ready to walk and learn from two biologists who have specialized in lichens of the area. They told us there were at least two hundred and eighty varieties of lichen in this particular woods. I was amazed that there could be so many, and then they told me that there are two thousand varieties of lichen in the United Kingdom and many more throughout the world. What a creative mind our God has to think up all the variation in nature.Vonnie Inspects The Lichens
We walked along a country road, downhill past a herd of Highland cattle grazing in the wet grass, until we came to a stile and climbed over a fence into the Scottish Wildlife Trust land. We followed their path through pasture lands, across a stream, over more fences and stiles, and finally we entered the filtered light of the Hazel woods. It was a fairyland of shapes and textures and colors. Mosses and lichens of all shapes and descriptions clung to the twisty, tangled branches of the ancient trees. Andy and Anna, the biologists, so lovingly, so reverently, so gently taught us about each wonder -- their eyes wide with an innocent, childlike delight as they showed us each new species. We were worshiping together.Hazel Glove Lichen
I learned so much! I learned about the lacy "lobe" family of lichens that look like a fancy miniature lettuce growing midst the mosses on the branches and about the "graphidian" lichens that decorate the branches with a dainty foreign-looking script, like the most delicate graffiti imaginable. I saw the rare "hazel gloves", a fungus with tiny fingers, like hundreds of miniature, orange rubber gloves reaching around slender limbs. Then there was the jelly-blob lichen that looked like slime dripping from a branch and the glue lichen that re-attached fallen twigs or glued two neighboring shoots together. I loved the oak moss that trailed like pale green hair throughout the woods and the dog lichen that looked like a collection of black-spotted puppy's ears. (If you lifted them up, you would find tiny dog's teeth on the bottom of each one.) My very, very favorite, though, was the plum lichen that looked like tiny ruffled leaves of grayish-lavender cabbage, intricately textured and decorated at their hearts with tiny, gorgeously-ruby-red beads."St. Olaf" Visiting the Woods
There was so much more -- like "shingle" lichens and "Norwegian spotted belly". (The older lady I was walking with made me laugh by saying she wasn't sure she wanted to see that one.) After three hours, we were all soaked, our hair hanging in dripping strands over foreheads and cheeks, but we could hardly bear to leave our woodland chapel. God was so tangible in the sheer beauty of the miniature world of artistic masterpieces I have usually taken for granted or completely ignored. We walked back through grasses hanging with droplet jewels, our hearts joining in with bird songs, children of a heavenly Father -- feeling so loved.
PS If you would like to see some REAL photos, some professional photos, of lichens, here's a link we learned of this morning. http://www.uklichens.co.uk/ (I especially recommend the "picture index" on the site.) Mike Sutcliffe, the photographer who created and updates the site, took Friday off from his work in Newcastle on Tyne and drove the six hours so he, too, could join the nature walk. Vonnie and I both enjoyed talking to him.