The split rail fence was already here when we moved in years ago.

“It’ll be perfect if we get a dog,” one of us said. Still no dog, though we haven’t given up on the idea. We’ve also never treated the fence and so watched it silver and soften and thicken with lichen.

Lichen are not one organism but a fungus and an algae growing together in a symbiotic relationship. On Saturday morning, I tackled the fence with a paint scraper, carefully prying up each one in what felt satisfying in a mindless, meditative way. I also felt a bit like a monster destroying tiny, perfect worlds.

british soldier lichen on a rail

Nature abhors a vacuum, which is never more evident than on an old rotting fence. Take away one thing and another fills in. I scraped and thought how true this is for vices. Love is the only thing that truly fills, but even love isn’t without pitfalls.

After the fence scraping and lunch, I scrapped plans to run on a trail by myself and brought my littlest kid along. In June, I’d like her to come along on a 5K I’m planning to do with a couple sober bloggers. I wanted to see if 3 miles is doable for pint-sized legs.

We were full speed ahead for the first mile. The second mile saw more breaks to rest upon benches, peer down ominous looking grates, pet a giant poodle, and stare in fascinated horror at one long-dead deer that appeared to be melting back into the ground.

The third mile is when we both got covered in tar. Tar! One second we were leaning over a bridge to get a better look at trout wiggling in neat rows in the stream below and the next my little girl said uh-oh and raised her chubby arm to show it was coated in shiny brown tar.

I decided it would be best to wash it off in the creek, which is really code for “here, you can’t keep all that tar for yourself – let me smear some on my hands so they’ll stick to the steering wheel!” Not only was I unable to clean off any tar, I sunk my new running shoes into a thick stew of mud.

On the rest of the walk back, my little girl held her tar arm behind her back when we passed others. “What if it never comes off?” she asked. In her mind, she had already graduated kindergarten and gotten married and raised a brood of babies, all with a gummy coat of tar on her good arm.

“We’ll get it off,” I said and smiled to show her I meant it.

“But what if you can’t?” she asked, already wise to the fact that parents can’t fix everything, especially ones with muddy shoes and sticky tar all over their driving hands.

We made it back to the car and a canister of wet naps, which occupied her until we reached home and warm, soapy water and a good scrub brush.

Now, if I’d just gone those 3 miles on my own like I’d planned before scraping lichen, I guarantee I wouldn’t have come home covered in tar. I also wouldn’t have noticed the melting deer or pet a giant poodle with my little girl. Relationships are messy, and we are richer for having them and letting our hands get dirty.

lichen love


23 thoughts on “Like lichen

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  1. Hello friend! I’ve been off WP for over a week now and your post was the first to greet me. Your words were exactly what I needed to hear. I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know. xo


  2. Just lovely, K. You know your way around the wordsmithing and laying it all open and bringing joy from the little things that would pass by a slug like me. What a wonderful afternoon with the wee one. I can picture it all, and your gentle ways fall from the screen here. What a joy to read you. So glad that I am here.

    (I would have been freaking out about the tar. I’m a neat freak, so when I read the shoes in the mud, I squirmed. I say this surrounded by what looks like a bomb went off in the house, and just can’t WAIT to clean it. Tomorrow. So I am learning.)

    A perfect Sunday read. Or anyday read 🙂



  3. I love this post so much I want to hug it tight enough for my own share of the messy tar. Gah!!! 🙂 Lovely lovely lovely. You are awesome. ♥


  4. ‘Take away one thing another fills in’ Wow! So true BB, I guess that’s where the ‘idle hands’ saying comes in to. This is a fantastic story and I just love the ‘youngin’ stopping and smelling the roses – boy can we learn from that. Sometimes children tell us so much, they most times will go to things that make them happy in dull times and as adults we can go to worry. I hope when I’m 80 I’m still a child. Loved this post BB. -B


  5. Nature abhors a vacuum and so do I. But I love each and every post you share.

    Aren’t those the best runs? Remember all that good stuff in the spaces in between? From the start of your run to the end of your run — all the good stuff was in there, right in between.


  6. love the idea of family as a symbiotic organism. the children need us in different ways as they grow older, we need them just as much. I adore running with my kids. my boy jumps and leaps like a young kid. my girl notices every wild flower. one run last summer we came home with two huge bunches of hedgerow flowers. slower but infinitely richer. and better for the waistline than baking with them 😉 – I would rather pull on trainers than an apron any day! here in the UK most official races have a minimum age for the 5k – which is 11 – might be worth checking with the organisers if you haven’t already done so as a disappointed child is a sorry sight to behold! ps love the tar-sharing 🙂


  7. Ha! I love looking at the world through a little person’s eyes. Like seeing everything in a new way with an unfolding fascination. And so much messier, naturally. Hope your trainers recovered! xxx


  8. I agree with your other reader above – great analogy –
    and I loved the ending so much – so true – so true – also, I was laughing with how you wrote “In her mind, she had already graduated kindergarten and gotten married and raised a brood of babies, all with a gummy coat of tar on her good arm….” and then I was saying “amen” to how parents can’t fix everything…. and then laughing again…. etc.

    anyhow, if you do end up getting a dog – well the fence will be lichen free and ready to go!! lastly, this post is kind of special for me because our black Lab caused me some anguish recently – nothing too major – but the “mess” and extreme inconvenience (long story) was a royal pain – but it pales in comparison to how much love he has brought our family – and make stye mess so much more embraceable. hope you have a nice week. 🙂


  9. I loved this. Every word from the lichen to the tar. Nothing like looking at the world with the mind of a child. I remember walks with my son that followed a similar path – though Ewww to the melting deer. Neither of us could have looked at that.

    Enjoy your next 5K run!


  10. Damn, but you are a fine writer. i always finish your posts wondering what i enjoyed more, the things you say or the way you say them.

    This reminds me of a lesson i also learned in sobriety, concerning life and live music. Live music doesn’t have all the precision and aseptic care of a studio recording, but much of what makes live music special is all the rough edges and raw energy.

    Thanks BBB!


  11. Reading a post from you is truly like a breath of fresh air, Kristen. I love every single word you wrote. You motivate me to want to stretch my boundaries! And, of course, you remind me to get out of vacation mode (which, sadly, I am still in), and remember that we are only 6 weeks away from our 5K!

    Thanks, as always, for enriching my world!


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