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.