June in the North Cascades, Washington. Why not? Teresa, my friend in adventures, was the main attraction, but the impetus for the trip was to take a watercolor class at the North Cascades Institute with Michele Cooper. One other thing: Teresa had found a used kayak for me to buy. Picking it up was on the agenda as well. (Used sea kayaks seem to be more plentiful in Washington than in Montana.)
Hemlock. Juniper. Cedar. Pine. Fir. Big trees. Huge in circumference and reaching high, shading the overgrown trail. Ferns. Dogbane. Biscuitroot. Twinflower. Salal. Mosses. Lichens. The trails we walked were green green green. Light greens. Dark greens, intermediate greens. Blue green, yellow green, grey green, olive green. So much green. Life overflowed, covering even the rocks with mosses and lichens. To see rocks one would need to peel away that thick layer of green life.
Hiking in the Cascades seems to be either all up or all down. The peaks are jagged, the mountains look younger than the Rockies. A quick look at the North Cascades National Park website reveals that the geology of these mountains are complicated and poorly understood, though they are still rising. My hiking experience on this visit was much like the hiking in 2010 during my time on the Washington section of the PCT. Up up up then down down down then back up only to go back down again. These are not easy mountains to wander. But they offer huge rewards in inspiration and rugged beauty.
We were inspired to paint Pyramid Peak. Rocks, flowers and a host of other natural items added pages of color to our journals. Michele Cooper is an excellent instructor, showing multiple examples and giving specific brush and color mixing techniques. It will take time to integrate all that I learned. Drawing and painting in a new environment can be challenging: different color mixes and different tones mean re-thinking previous palettes. The weather was cool and somewhat rainy and misty. How to get that mysterious feeling into a quick vignette?
The most fascinating thing I learned, however, had nothing much to do with art (unless one wants to draw them), but with lichens. I had heard about a new discovery regarding lichens: rather than being a symbiotic relationship between only a fungus and an algae or cyanobacteria, (Freddie Fungus took a ‘lichen’ to Alice Algae…) there is a third partner, a yeast involved. Evan, North Cascades Institute Senior Naturalist, shared more information about the yeast: Basidiomycetis. This discovery is a huge game-changer in our knowledge of lichens. Lichens have been around for millions of years, since the age of dinosaurs, sharing this three-way living arrangement. We’ve known about two of the partners (fungus and algae) since the 1800’s, but to find this totally new third entity is amazing. Our world has so much to learn about—I want to know it all, or at least parts of everything. The same species of Basidiomycetis has been found in the same species of lichen that grow thousands of miles apart in Germany and in Montana. Does this mean that the yeast is specific to the species of lichen? What role does the yeast perform in the threesome? So many questions, so many opportunities to learn.
But for me, all of the course participants were Washingtonians. Spending time in the Cascades and with a group of people who love these mountains has me thinking of the concept of home, and how some of us choose our home ground because it speaks to our soul. Some of us move to where we need to live in order to feel whole. Green canopy and wide-girthed trees call to some. Wide open spaces call to others. The sea calls to yet others. Where we call home may be different, yet we are all the same in our love for our land.
For more lichen information: Evan provided a link to a few articles:
“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.”
– Aldo Leopold
Co-founder, The Wilderness Society