little person sitting at base of trees whose branches are anastomosing together

Living Relationally: An Exploration with Nastassja Noell

How do we live relationally when we are surrounded by polarization; when fulfilling our basic needs of food, water, and shelter are often in direct opposition to our intention to live with integrity and cause no harm? Explore the new publications from Firefly's Registration Coordinator and resident lichenologist, Nastassja Noell, which explore what humans might learn from fungus about living relationally.

How do we live relationally when we are surrounded by polarization; when fulfilling our basic needs of food, water, and shelter are often in direct opposition to our intention to live with integrity and cause no harm? It often feels impossible; but if we look around and beyond ourselves, into the more-than-human world, examples of living relationally abound. 

Recently our Registration Coordinator, Nastassja Noell, was commissioned by Dark Mountain Project (an eco-social group of writers and artists), to write a piece discussing fungal anastomosis and what we as humans might learn from this process of dismantling cell walls. What resulted is a beautiful essay that weaves together themes that were very alive at The Firefly Gathering this past June: right relations, eco-philosophy, landback, as well as blue ghost fireflies and chronic illness.

“I’m a lichenologist, and I’ve loved conducting biodiversity surveys in the alpine and intermountain west; but the more studies I’ve embarked on, the more I’ve felt like something was missing.”

Nastassja took a break from lichenology, and during that time joined the Firefly team as our Registration Coordinator, setting up the back-end web systems for Perennial Workshops and the Annual Gathering.

“Firefly is what was missing in my life; knowing the names of all our relations is important, but cultivating relationships with the more-than-human world is everything.” 

We invite you to enjoy the moving essay “Spaces Between the Branches,” which just came out last week. To learn more about lichens, check out Nastassja’s article “How to be a Lichen,” that she wrote for Firefly’s blog last January.  If you’re more of a fiction lover, you might resonate with her flash fiction pieces:

  •  Cracking Open – A Walk to the Precipice published in Dark Mountain’s ABYSS last October, about a girl and the disfigured creatures at the center of time.
  • Medicine Songs, published by Bright Flash Literary Review last month, is a flash about a little boy learning to sing medicine songs as the world around him is crumbling. 

“This year was my first Firefly Gathering,” says Nastassja, “and for the first time in my life, I got a clear vision of the future I’m writing towards. Thank you Firefliers, for being who you are and shining your light in the world!”

For more from Nastassja, check out her website at

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If you’d like to explore more about what the living world can inspire in your own path of living in more empowered and loving relationship with self, community, and Earth, we encourage you to join us at Firefly’s upcoming Wild Mushrooms & Fungi Identification Walk and Our Magnificent Trees: Identification, Uses, Folklore, and More with Luke Cannon.


Image: “Anastomosis: Sitting at the feet of the Tree People” by Nastassja Noell, carving on birch panel, Winter Solstice 2021.


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Lily Harlin


Lily is an artist, creator, and dreamer. Since a very young age, she has been immersed in the natural world and draws heavy inspiration from the wild. Though her medium changes frequently, Lily’s art and expression always incorporate an element of the organic and unpredictable. She got her associate in fine arts in 2023, and now volunteers at her school as a ceramic studio monitor. She hopes to open a studio of her own one day to have a place to teach and inspire others. In addition to doing commission work, Lily has been creating many graphics for The Firefly Gathering since 2019. Lily grew up in the Earthskills community from the time she was eight years old, so having the opportunity to grow and give back in so many ways has been incredibly fulfilling. No matter where she ends up, this group of people and ideas will always hold a special place in her heart.