textiles · exploration · misadventure

Lichen Ache


Seven jars with fiber samples and an inch or two of amber liquid in them. Inset right: closeup of one sample.

Left: lichen dye in jars with mordanted samples. Right: closeup on the alum sample.

Peaceful porch view land and river. The river is mostly dry rocks.

Jim’s porch on the Mattole River

In August, Matthew and I drove up to California’s Lost Coast to camp in the Sinkyone Wilderness and to visit our friend Jim, who lives a few hours from there.

Jim has several riverside acres in a small valley in Humboldt County. There’s a general store, a bar, a post office, and a lot of peace and quiet.

He has a huge garden of zucchini and hooknecks and onions and garlic and melons and strawberries and apples and I don’t know what else. He has a little old mobile home we call the Spackle Palace, which overlooks the river.

Matthew and I spent days lounging on the porch reading, or watching the Mattole sluggishly drift by, very low in this extreme drought. We rode with Jim to Ferndale, along a road known to hardy and fearless locals as “the Wildcat.”

Flat road on grassy shore from about 1000 feet high on the opposite hill

Looking back at the innocent lead up to the Wildcat. Once we started climbing, it only took us a few minutes to drive this high. The switchbacks were beyond beyond.

We picked fresh apples. We helped Jim care for his garden. We talked and laughed for hours. At night we watched Spinal Tap and Chinatown, then slept like the dead in our tent on Jim’s grass, falling asleep to crickets and night birds and owls, with the Milky Way coasting along above us, and the Mattole gurgling sleepily off to one side. Jim is so kind to share this with us.

It’s the kind of place I ache to live, the kind of land I dream of owning a home upon. A little two-bedroom house, with a yellow kitchen, one shed for Matt’s bikes, and another for my textiles. And some apple trees.

With Jim’s permission (and blessing) I spent some time clearing his garden of conveniently invasive yellow dock for dyeing. Also with permission, I harvested some lichen from his twenty or so 80-year-old apple trees, a little bit from each.

This harvesting from one’s land, whether of apples or strawberries or dock or lichen, pulls at my heart. The sun on my face, the dirt on my hands, the sweat on my body, the learning and noting of dyeplants, the digging, the removal of stones, the wet legs from watering plants—I love it. The textile work won’t feed my body, but it still feeds me nevertheless. As much as I appreciate the neighborhood I live in, I ache for more of this kind of life.

Closeup of several red apples on moss or lichen covered bough.

I used this fluffy, green lichen for one set of dyes. Or is it moss? Anybody know?

closeup of two lichens, a crumbly, pale green sort, and a green and gold leafy sort.

And I used these two lichens for two more sets of samples.

Lichen harvesting is controversial, first because lichens grow so slowly that it takes years to replenish a colony, and second, because many lichens are threatened. I therefore went about my harvesting prudently.

I didn’t clear cut any lichen colonies, just looked for where it was growing most thickly, and took a portion of that. I also looked at it as a one-time experiment. I figured if If loveloveloved the way the dyes come out, I’m kind of doomed.

Well, guess what? I’m doomed. I LOVE these guys! Photos soon. (:

9 thoughts on “Lichen Ache

  1. Look forward to photos. Wouldn’t you just know you would end up lovelove them. It sure sounds like a beautiful spot

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, I should have known I’d love them to bits. And of course the ones I love best come from the lichens I have least of. I’ll just have to try to use it wisely!
      Jim’s *is* beautiful. Every time we are there we think about buying in the area… but we don’t really have the finances to do it. ):

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the wY you make Jim’s land sound like heaven. I miss my land and know someday I will have some again. Possibly with two little cottages, one with a yellow kitchen, one with a marble countertop. And several scattered outbuildings.

    Lichen, if I remember from botany class, is a hybrid type relation to moss and algae. It will also seriously cure constipation.


    • “It will also seriously cure constipation.” lol! So glad I have some in the house!
      Maybe we can go in on some land together someday. It might be fun to be two old biddies together. I promise I’d do more work around the place than I did last time we lived together. And I’d make tuna sandwiches in a clean room so you didn’t have to smell them.
      Jim’s property is pretty great, probably not least because it reminds me of yours.


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