The power of liking lichen

I was taking pictures of Jill before I realized why. I was so drawn by her ability to make something ordinary, extraordinary. This Lichen Lady captivated my attention.

As the end of this week rolls around, it strikes me that I’ve had numerous conversations that focus on career choices. While at the grocery store late one afternoon, I ran into an old friend who told me her current work isn’t that rewarding and she is starting a process to figure out what she really wants to do. She asked if I could I help her.

And while having lunch with a colleague yesterday, he was telling me about the challenges in his son’s job search and the simple, yet wise, advice given to him by a high school counselor: “Find what you love to do, and do it.”

While in Alaska on our vacation, we found a few special people who had done just that. Jill, a New Englander by birth, had relocated to Alaska many years ago as part of her multiple cross-country moves that allowed her to work in forestry and conservation-related jobs. She also taught in schools along the way.

She gave us a guided nature tour alongside a river at the Kantishna Roadhouse, deep in Denali National Park. She and her husband live in Fairbanks year-round, but in the summers, she makes special arrangements to be in the Park.

I’ve never, ever, in my life been around anyone who liked lichen like Jill did!

You can see that everyone is actively learning, touching and smelling the lichen as Jill explains it to us. We were there at peak foliage season and even the plain, low-growing shrubs were beautiful.

Honestly, I could care less about lichen. I wouldn’t have even gone on this tour except the dog-sled demonstration was canceled because the person heading that up was ill that day. And while I love a good walk in the woods, I have absolutely no interest to learn more about lichen or spend time understanding the ins and outs of it. Until I met Jill.

Jill doesn’t just like lichen. She loves it. She understands it. She wants it be understood. She was serious about it. She showed us how there were 15 different types of lichens within a two-foot square radius. She also talked about the berries, the shrubs, the trees that supported the lichen. She made it light, interesting, engaging, and relevant. We were hanging on her every word. About lichen! It was cracking me up.

It proved to me that when someone brings complete energy and love for their work, it impacts everyone, even if they aren’t as passionate. As we were ending the tour, Jill said, “What I hope you leave with is this: knowing that the Alaskan tundra is very diverse.” She continued to add that when you think of cold climates and tundra conditions, you don’t think anything grows, but it does. And now I do remember that. I did absolutely learn about the region in a way that I would not have if it hadn’t been for her devotion to sharing it with us.

In our two weeks of touring Alaska, we had many guides. None of them were rude or unwelcoming. All of them shared information and were helpful. But just a select few were exceptional. When we were around one of those exceptional people, the memories lasted. The impact was obvious. These individuals loved what they did.

In addition to Gitte and Jill, there was another grand guide we had. You’ll meet him next time.

What does Grace have to do with any of this? Not much that I can come up with. I doubt Grace would care much about the lichen, but somehow I think Jill would make it enjoyable for her, too.

What is it that you love about your job?

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6 comments

  1. didiwright says:

    What is insignificant and worthless to some people can be extremely important and worth pursuing to others. I think Jill proves that brilliantly. I love people like her, whose passion is infectious and makes you see the value of things that you’ve never even looked at before.
    We recently watched a documentary about a huge killer squid, and the scientists appearing in it had spent 20 or more years watching and studying this misunderstood sea giant. They were so passionate about their work and so in love with this creature, that they spoke about it with affection and admiration, and were risking their lives diving under the seas to ‘meet’ it in real life. It might sound crazy to other people, but it made complete sense to them.

    • DId you see that video on Sara’s site with the squid? It was so amazing and I bet that documentary was really good, too. My husband got me to go to an insectarium in Montreal one time (I had no idea there was such a thing), but what was even more interesting is that I found it so interesting. Who would have thought I would have enjoyed spending a couple hours with bugs?! To your point, we never know what will be of interest, so it’s good to be open to it!

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