I Like Lichen

July 29, 2008, 11:00 am; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Kaitlin  | 1 Comment

I like lichen. I really do. We have a spectacular variety that thrives in the upper altitudes of southern California, a lime green sort that appears on the maroon bark of manzanita bushes, nestled in the whimsical grey whorls of the branches. During summer hikes it greets me from the trail, bursting bright and unexpected in the dusty desert forest that is the San Jacinto Mountains.

In honor of my dear high school geography teacher, a first-year newlywed fresh from Azusa Pacific University, who got really excited when she noticed the screen shots from Pride and Prejudice adorning my binder and made a valiant effort for the rest of the semester to discuss period movies with me before class, I\’d like to make an orthoepical aside. One day, reading from her prepared PowerPoint on the flora and fauna of some country or another in her wonted dutiful, indifferent tone, my teacher ended her litany of native species with a tentative, “and, um, ”˜litchen.\’”

I sat in the darkened, map-lined classroom and felt sad. Being a 16-year-old senior in a class of freshmen, I wasn\’t exactly sure where I stood. Could I correct her without making her look stupid? Her hold was already so shaky; it was all she could do to keep the delinquent who sat in front of me from falling asleep on his desk every day. Already in that short sole semester I spent at a public high school, I had caught my art history teacher writing “ascetic” instead of “aesthetic” on the board during vocabulary time, and my English teacher wavering over the spelling of “judgment.” In the latter instance, the entire class insisted it should have been “judgement,” against my solitary steadfast adherence to the former, a disagreement that was only resolved when a couple of girls found a dictionary in the back of the room and vindicated me (the extra “e” is a British form, one never used in the United States, a fact I quickly apprised my teacher of lest I appear less than knowledgeable on the point).

I decided to keep quiet. That any of the thirty-something ninth graders in the room, assuming any were paying attention, now thought that “litchen” was kosher, gnawed at me, but I told myself I needed to consider my teacher\’s well-being. I can say it now, though, without any repercussion: it\’s pronounced “liken,” with a long “i” sound and a hard “k,” coming from the Greek “leichen.” Just remember: I like lichen.


1 Comment to “I Like Lichen”

  1. Tom on July 29th, 2008 11:10 am

    Our trivia team ran across a question last night that reminds me of your story on two levels. “A lichen is a combination of what two organisms?” The answer is of course (almost always) an algae and a fungus, but the “official” answer was a plant and a fungus. Correct, but not correct enough to give us our point.

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