Cryptobiotic Soil:
Poetry by CMarie Fuhrman
Art by Emily Poole

from Cascadia Field Guide: Art | Ecology | Poetry

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This excerpt of Cascadia Field Guide: Art | Ecology | Poetry, edited by Elizabeth Bradfield, CMarie Fuhrman, and Derek Sheffield, is reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher, Mountaineers Books.

Cascadia Field Guide: Art | Ecology | Poetry, Edited by Elizabeth Bradfield, CMarie Fuhrman, and Derek Sheffield

Have you ever been so filled up with the wonder of a place that it wants to spill out as a song? Well, here is the songbook. I imagine walking through a forest and pausing to read these illuminating pages aloud to a listening cedar or a dipper. There are field guides that help us to see, and to name, and to know; Cascadia Field Guide does all of that and more. This is a guide to relationship, a gift in reciprocity for the gifts of the land.
  – Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass

Learn more and purchase the book.

Cryptobiotic Soil

There are many reasons to tread with care in the Shrub-steppe. One of them is Cryptobiotic Soil, whose name means “hidden life.” If you are lucky enough to encounter this being, which is typically darker than the surrounding soil and bumpy looking, kneel for a close look and imagine the wonder of seeing a thousand-year-old Sitka Spruce in Cascadia’s Temperate Rainforest. This elder being you are in the company of might be five times as ancient. Maybe more.

Cryptobiotic Soil, also known as Cryptogamic Crust and Biological Soil Crust, is as vulnerable as they are venerable. One errant foot- or hoof-step may take a century to repair. A special collective of lichens, cyanobacteria, mosses, fungi, and algae, Cryptobiotic Crust is vitally important in that they add nutrients to the soil and protect it from erosion. Imagine what all that prairie wind would do were it not for the anchoring grace of this being.


Cryptobiotic soil

Cryptobiotic Sonnet

The ashes of my beloved tasted like nothing
and swallowing them didn’t bring him back.
They still feel warm, my mother said, as we fed him to the river.
He and I were pregnant then, but I bled the unknowable into soil.
There were no songs. I often walk the desert looking
for proof of my ancestors. I once found a Clovis point
unbroken by years, cattle hooves, or floods, an icicle
with an amber heart and tip dipped in blood.
I felt only its primeval edge when I pressed it to my tongue.
I buried the artifice in soil whose name means hidden life.
An ancient skin which binds together the dead
in layers to hold new lives. I’ll be dead
before the scar I made heals by the beautiful work of rot,
which I carry now beneath my fingernails like ten black and waning moons.




CMarie FuhrmanCMarie Fuhrman was born and grew in the shadow of Horsetooth Mountain and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and was introduced to wild places and beings by parents who grew off the land—hunting, fishing, and gardening—and passed their knowledge and passion on to their two daughters. Fuhrman has lived along the backbone of the Rockies nearly all her life, and now has lived in west-central Idaho for over a decade. The area, from the Frank Church Wilderness to the deep waters of the Salmon and Snake Rivers, has become more than home, more than character in her writing, but part of her, intrinsic to all that she is. With an undeniable understanding of the urgency that surrounds protecting these places, both wild and urban, Fuhrman works with organizations that defend beings such as Grizzly, rivers such as the South Fork of the Salmon, and the bodies of Native women—where destruction and erasure is mirrored in humans. Fuhrman is the author of Camped Beneath the Dam: Poems (Floodgate, 2020) and coieditor of Native Voices (Tupelo Press, 2019). She has published poetry and nonfiction in multiple journals including Emergence Magazine,, Yellow Medicine Review, and Cutthroat, as well as several anthologies. Fuhrman served as program manager for IKEEP (Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program) at the University of Idaho and is the director of the poetry concentration in the graduate program for creative writing at Western Colorado University, where she also teaches nature writing. She is a regular columnist for the Inlander, an editorial team member for Broadsided Press, and director of the Elk River Writers Workshop. She resides in the mountains of west-central Idaho. Her website is

Read “Kokanee,” a poem by CMarie Fuhrman also appearing in

Emily PooleEmily Poole was raised in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and has now put down roots in the mossy hills of Oregon. She received her BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2016. She has created work for numerous organizations including the National Museum of Wildlife Art, Creature Conserve, Sasquatch Books, and High Country News. By making playful and accessible images that foster an emotional connection between the viewer and the subject matter, Poole seeks to engage viewers in learning about what’s going on in the natural world and what they can do to protect it.

Header image, Eastern Rivers Cluster, by Justin Gibbens, from Cascadia Field Guide. Photo of CMarie Fuhrman by Mel Ota. is the first online literary journal of place, publishing award-winning literature, art, editorials, and community case studies since 1998.