Liberty Spring to Gordon Pond – 16 miles
Once I changed my expectations about this trip I began to enjoy it more. I know I’m spoiled by the grandeur of Western vistas and the way hiking above treeline makes me feel like a small dot moving along a vast horizon. At first I was frustrated that the Appalachian Trail is so different from what I know back home. In actuality, the change of scenery is a cool new experience. I have to see this trail for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Here, the tree cover focuses my gaze closer. Rather than examine large geological features or tall conifers, I’ve been studying Joe Walewski’s book, “Lichens of the North Woods.”
I learned the White Mountains are a hotspot of lichen biodiversity. Lichens thrive in the harsh environment above treeline, where the storms are too cold and the sun too intense for other life to exist.
Lichen is a symbiosis between fungi from kingdom monera and algae from kingdom protista. The algae uses photosynthesis to make food out of carbon dioxide from the air and energy from the sun, while the fungus gathers water from the fog and adheres the duo to the rock, tree, or ground surface.
This week I’ve learned to name at least a dozen lichen species, and it’s fun to recognize familiar ones along the trail. The elegant sunburst lichen turns rocks bright yellow, map lichen looks exactly like its name suggests, and the funny British soldier lichen looks like it is standing at attention in uniform. Giving a name to whitewash lichen makes me less frustrated that it so closely resembles the spray paint blazes I’m trying to follow.
As the book explains, “[Lichens] are truly nature’s alchemists turning pure air into something more valuable than gold or platinum – they turn air into life.”