Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ferns in Forest 1895

This forest floor is so alive, Levitan might have titled his magical painting: Ferns and Moss in Forest. 

These light-collecting ferns, long passed their un-coiling, have spread their wings as if ready to take off. Ferns develop their spores (seeds) under the surface of the leaves, usually spreading them only after the leaves have dried. Other ferns spread by shallow, horizontal roots called runners

Perhaps it's this feature of winter-surviving, shallow roots that causes ferns to be seen as symbols of endurance. The word endurance seems to have derived from Latin, Greek, Irish and Lithuanian sources, all of which mean solid, strong, hardened, resilient - even oak - a particularly hard wood.

Everyone has a story of endurance: Hang in there an American might say. Carry on, a British subject would say. I had a parishioner who told of joining the fire brigade during the London Blitz, when she and her girlfriends would climb buildings dragging heavy canvas hoses, dousing roof fires caused by Nazi incendiary bombs. A twenty year old "girl" standing up to Hitler - that's endurance.

But of course endurance needn't be as dramatic as all that. 

  • caring for an elderly loved-one
  • years of study to become a doctor.
  • a difficult pregnancy
  • raising a family
  • slogging out long transportation to a unrewarding job 
  • fighting an addiction

Levitan's forest ferns might remind us of some personal time requiring endurance and gratitude for the inner "stuff" that enabled us to lean in and stay standing.

But then there's the moss beneath the ferns! Moss symbolizes the soft covering of maternal love. These two bible verses might come to mind. The psalmist likens God to a desert bird protecting her chicks from the withering sun with  umbrella-like wings, Psalm 91:3,4.
He rescues you from the snare of the fowler set on destruction; he covers you with his pinions, you will find shelter under his wings. His constancy is shield and protection.  
But we might give credit where credit is due: it's a mother-bird (she) who stands over the chicks with cooling wings.

And then Jesus, (who St. Juliana of Norwich called Mother), lamenting over Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refuse!" Matthew23:37

Consider the rich depth of Levitan's forest floor: the endurance of ferns; the maternal love of moss.


  1. Only you could make a picture of ferns and moss into a beautiful lesson Father. Thank you for opening our eyes.

  2. And I say, thank you for being teachable! Isn't it a lovely painting?

  3. Ferns have certainly endured the test of time. Although much overlooked, they stand fast and hearty, offering a cooling touch and holding moisture for the forest floor, helping life to proliferate around them. Happy are those who help others and help them to live and grow.

  4. I wish I could curl up and sleep on the soft moss. I'm feeling crushed and could use a mother's comfort.

  5. Some folks are taking these images and making them into screen savers. I don't know how to do that but it's a great idea. At any rate, make this brillian fern-moss painting your meditation. I send a blessing and prayers for your "resurrection".

    1. Thank you for blessing and prayers as I could surely use them. I will try to lose myself in the image of the moss. Sometimes I think it would be easier to be dead than to face the days of my life ahead.

    2. When confronted with the suffering of other people we sometimes say things that are inappropriate or unhelpful because we don't know what else to say: "I understand" or "I know what you're feeling," and we don't. But I do understand what you've said here and I must tell you that the only way up and out of it is to talk with someone who is a careful listener - even if you have to pay for that person's professional time. I understand the darkness. I understand the dread of the day ahead. Please find a trustworthy listener. There's no shame.

  6. It is as if Levitan has painted hidden messages in his landscapes. If you look for the subtle details, the emotional responses to the mysteries of the natural world are revealed and God becomes visible in all things.

  7. Sometimes hidden messages are unconscious - which doesn't at all mean "not real" - but rather MOST real because they come from a very deep and personal place. Check out the verses to the lovely hymn: All Things Bright And Beautiful. If you're not familiar with it, you could hear it no doubt on YouTube.