Mountains, Nature

On lichens…

There’s little that lichens can be likened to, for in the realms of science where order and categorization are the sanctified decrees, they tramp around like atheist in a papacy, a concoction of symbioses so abstruse that one is often flummoxed by the humility of their existence despite all the biological pomp beneath…

Fungus, algae, bacteria, yeast… ‘tis almost like a political alliance where any permutation for survival would suffice… politics becomes photosynthesis here, and every vote, every piece of organic matter matters… both alliances are fickle, largely governed by the exogenic forces and climate, yet despite all odds, both totter across the fine line, sometimes graciously, sometimes precariously…

Lichens of high-altitude Himalaya
Satsar Lakes, Kashmir

Lichens symbolize perseverance, an excruciating exercise in patience… millimeters as the planet traces its ellipse around the star, a scrape of the foot enough to dislodge decades of guile… the forest lichens maybe a little faster, but the inhabitants of higher climes are the subjects of our muse here, those who dare to defy the wrath of the elements and peep out of icy granite in sheer nonchalance…

Lichens of high-altitude Himalaya
Lecanora somervelli, Vishansar Lake, Kashmir

For these are the silent humdingers, revelling in carving out an existence where the elements prefer strict solitude… while their brethren downstream grow beards, their own visage remains resembles islands, a patch here, a patch there… probably because they excel at making an eight-course meal out of a morsel, these lichens, a raptor poops from miles above and a new wave of microbial fertility duly sets off on course…

Lichens of high-altitude Himalaya
Lecidea lapicida, Phangchi Galu, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh

Not sans preparation though, their seemingly timid demeanour is contrasted by a range of defensive mechanisms – be it from solar radiation, extreme temperatures, herbivores or other flora… humans again seem to have found the nemesis though, with air pollution strangling the life out of lichens… dyes, scents, food and medicine, they have their uses to us too, but the age of sustainable consumption passed away quite a while ago, and ‘tis only these clumps of colour in inhospitable heights that go completely untouched and unharnessed…

Lichens of high-altitude Himalaya
Xanthoria elegans, Ladakh

In harsh environs where a shivering human is continuously trying to hold on to the last vestiges of rationality, a lichen surprisingly represents companionship, partly because it could spell the end of snow in the near term, the rest simply since a dab of colour after aeons of white and blue that serves as the elixir in dire times… maybe there is something that lichens can be likened to after all… if the flower amidst a moraine is that determined mountaineer, dressed up for visual attention, the lichen is the nondescript porter, driven by an iota of money visible on the surface, but the rest of his motivation tucked in hopelessly those small crevasses in rocks…

Xanthoria elegans, Ladakh

Musings on high altitude lichens…

Author: Parth Joshi

Allured by the outdoors, the author is made up in parts of that quintessential lost soul wreathing under the pangs of biophilia in a desk job, a wannabe elegist mostly ending up in dungeons of poetasters and an optimist waiting for the senility of the modern world to fade away while sampling shoots and leaves. In saner times, he has a keen interest in areas pertaining to tourism, history, agriculture and climate change, especially with respect to historical interpretations, emerging technologies and future livelihoods. An avid trekker, runner, cyclist, birder and photographer, he is more often than not found gloating over anything hinterland, on foot or over computer monitors, and fantasizing solutions that can foster inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods for communities at the grassroots.

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