When I was a kid I often heard my woodsmen uncles talk about how old trees used to be covered in Usnea, a group of lichen that grow on tree branches and look like grey beards – hence their one English name Old Man’s Beard, which I like. My uncles, one of whom had a beard like Old Man’s Beard, talked about how long the Usnea beards had been, how entire trees had been transformed into furry creatures by it. And they where sad that they never saw that anymore, really sorry about its disappearance. I was sorry too, sorry that I could never see what they had seen all those years ago. Sorry that I had missed something so mysterious, legendary even.
The reason Usnea growths had declined was the acid rain caused by air pollutants from factories far, far away in Central Europe and Soviet Union. In Germany acid rain killed entire forests, but in Finland it caused all kinds of tree growing lichen to decline. That’s why my uncle did not see those grey beards on trees anymore.
Now they’re growing again. We saw the damage the acid rains were causing. I remember hearing a ton about it in the news during the 80s, just like and even more than what we today hear about global warming and climate change. We recognised that acid rains were caused by what we did or, more precisely, what we failed to do: to keep from polluting the air. So we invented ways of making the factory emissions less harmful. We created necessary legislation and guidelines. We stopped it from happening anymore. We did it. It was never impossible. It was just something that had to be done. Today I can find older trees that are covered in Old Man’s Beard, like the one I found growing near our log cabin. It makes me so pleased to see them. The sight of them fills me with happiness, gratitude, and pride. We have done it before. We have accomplished a huge change in our practices here in Europe. Others have done similar things elsewhere. There is a lot that needs to change and it is a tremendous, intimidating challenge, like a massif we need to climb. But in reality it is a stack of smaller challenges. We have already cleared one ridge. Let’s do the next one!