Nice Thing Now and Again
I just finished a lovely book on mushrooms 'A Tangled Life' by Merlin Shandrake, and in it he discusses symbiosis, and how its original definition came about long ago in order to try and describe lichens and how they are not a singular thing, but a pairing of two organisms working together (though now we know that it’s more like a commune of organisms).
In many arenas (cultural, social, medicinal, etc.) mushrooms and fungal networks structure the world in which we live. Some background for the uninitiated, in old growth forests (in Oregon for instance) there are incredibly large networks of mycelium which connect and interact with the ancient trees and other plants by sharing nutrients and water (and who knows what else!). In the early days of understanding such a thing, we looked at it from the tree’s point of view, they dubbed it the wood wide web and examined how trees can potentially communicate through it.
Shandrake decides to view this through the perspective of the network itself. The mycelial networks are not an altruistic tool for the benefit of the forest, but have their own needs and desires that are encouraging them to spread and share. There’s no I in team, but there is one in society (also in fungi!) and that’s perhaps a more truthful interpretation of an interaction so vast and complex.
I feel that way about so many things, that to try and deeply understand something is to become aware of the limits of what we are capable of knowing. That is the say the truth, as such, in complex matters like the mind, the body, the stars, and the strings that run in between is not easily to represent much less measure. Often to attempt is like taking a quick sketch of the cosmos on a bar napkin.
Many will know that penicillin came from fungi, (and if you have a similar ad profile to me on social media, you’ll know all about the benefits of reishi and chaga) but to speak of the fruiting bodies of mushrooms as food, and then to break up that food into its nutritional components, and then to treat digestion and intake as universal measurable, and then to act as if all bodies need the same things (thus creating mythic SUPER FOODS and supplements), what does this really represent about understanding a mushroom? That it can be harvested and has value to humans.
Can we understand reishi as a product of a mostly unknown society (an ecosystem) or is our desire to know things more of an insecurity about the void. The void that exists in all of us. The space between our atoms, where the neutrinos go, and in between them and deeper still.
My mind has been thinking a lot on how we all fit together in this madhouse, crazy, beautiful, horrible world. How little we know about each other, and the things around us. How can we all be more curious, about each other, about mushrooms, about where it came from, and where it’s going. There is no manual for how to exist, because existence is a gift we’ve all been given and one cannot do it wrong but to refuse the gift. But what else awaits when you go looking for mushrooms after rain?