Hidden Life

“Three things cannot long be hidden: the Sun, the Moon, and the Truth”


Since November 2021, I have felt hidden away. My life has unfolded in moments of overwhelming joy, undulating uncertainty, quiet solitude, and a significant shift in the path to fulfilling my purpose. Life has been so busy and my seclusion has not been purposeful. It feels good to slow down and to have the time and head space to create, whatever your passion.

Recently, I spent some time hiking the Colorado Plateau region centered in the Four Corners area of the western part of the United States.  Living along the East Coast for the last few decades, I was delighted to discover the distinctively different desert flora.  The spectacular species of succulents, copious collections of cacti, and prolific populations of scented sagebrush and lush lavender were captivating.  Equally as engaging, was the curious, caliginous crust that conceals the colorful, terra cotta soil.  This biological crust, or cryptobiotic soil crust, is a complex community of living organisms on the soil surface that is a critical component in shaping arid and semi-arid ecosystems across the globe.  Cryptomeans “hidden” and biota refers to ‘life.” Surprisingly, this seemingly superficial surface is significant in retaining soil moisture and preventing erosion. It is often referred to as the Protector of the Desert.

Like other types of soils, cryptobiotic soil crust is created through the cooperation of countless, small organisms, including microfungi, lichens, mosses, green algae and bacteria. Its most bountiful biological life form is the ancient blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are dormant when the soil is dry. When it is wet, cyanobacteria move through the soil, stitching together an intricate web of sticky fibers and small soil particles that shape the crucial crust. This thick, continuous, cribriform, living layer reduces evaporation, resists erosion, regulates water absorption, and anchors an array of other organisms that promote plant growth. Young soil crusts are lighter in color, but mature crusts, often thousands of years old, appear darker, blackened and bumpy. Crust development varies in time and depends on soil structure, texture, and chemistry, elevation, microclimate, and disturbances to the landscape – including humans.  Cryptobiotic soil crusts are far-reaching and extraordinarily fragile. They shield and sustain the unique flora of the desert.  As humans, we are also tender. At times, we may conceal our true character under the depths of a dark, cryptic crust.

Often, our inky, heavy crust is a covert, convoluted web constructed from our tiers of unresolved trauma, stories of shame and guilt, layers of self-loathing, and the echelon of our enormous egotism.  Like the biological soil crust of the desert, our external encrustation should emerge from our unique, authentic expression.  Espoused by our acceptance, compassion, and creativity, our exquisite outer layer expands our resilience, encourages our growth, embodies our vulnerability, and enhances our relationships with others.  We remain tender, but grow more deeply in our kindness, gratitude, patience, and love, maturing into our unbroken, best self.

This essay is included in the anthology Gravity’s Grave, Volume 2 The World Beneath Our Feet published by Plants and Poetry Journal. Plants and Poetry has been so supportive of my work. Please check out their website and publications.

Published by Sarah Croscutt

I am the owner and facilitator of From the Outside, LLC, a program that connects people to the natural world, themselves, and each other through plant and nature-based activity, promoting self-awareness, healing, wholeness, and community. In addition, I am an environmental writer with essays included in several anthologies published by Plants and Poetry Journal and Wild Roof Journal (online). I would love to connect here or on Instagram @sarahc_outside.

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