Mushrooms in the Cherry Tree Beds

Mushrooms in the cherry bedOur efforts to enhance the fungal community in our yard are suddenly materializing in mushrooms popping up in the cherry tree circle beds.  (Or at least it seems that these efforts are linked.) These came up on my birthday, and then had disappeared by the next day, to be followed by another variety altogether.Mushrooms in the cherry bed, day two

Then, all of those disappeared, but today, I found these in the other cherry tree bed.Mushrooms in the other cherry bedI don’t know mushrooms well enough to identify–is anyone more familiar with these than I am who might give them names?

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How Mushrooms Can Help Us Save the World, Part Two

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Paul Stamets, in Mycelium Running, How Mushrooms Can Help Us Save the World, talks about the Gaia hypothesis, which suggests “that the planet’s biosphere intelligently piloted its course to sustain and breed new life.” He goes on to say:

I see mycelium as the living network that manifests the natural intelligence imagined by Gaia theorists. The mycelium is an exposed sentient membrane, aware and responsive to changes in its environment. As hikers, deer or insects walk across these sensitive filamentous nets, they leave impressions, and mycelia sense and respond to these movements. A complex and resourceful structure for sharing information, mycelium can adapt and evolve through the ever-changing forces of nature.

In other words, he proposes that there is a vast intelligent aware network in the ground beneath our feet.

It makes me wonder, what is intelligence? Human beings consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species on earth. Our intelligence has given us the power to build nuclear weapons that can destroy life on earth. But we haven’t yet been able to figure out how to avoid war and oppression.

Stamets believes that the mycelium operates at a level of complexity that exceeds the computational powers of our most advanced supercomputers. He sees the mycelium as the earth’s natural Internet.

Traditional Mexican shamans and curanderas use certain mushrooms that create visions and healing. Stamets says that psychoactive mushrooms can cause such affects on the human mind because of the chemicals that we share in common.

On a very practical level, it has been discovered that mycelial mats have the capacity to break down petroleum products into harmless components; they can also clean up nerve gas agents, dioxin, plastics, and radioactive cesium. Paul Stamets believes that mycelia not only have “the ability to protect the environment but the intelligence to do it on purpose.” 

In my faith community we speak about respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Mycelial networks are a visceral manifestation of that web, and we can see and measure their beneficial support for plant life, and for our lives. Scientists like Stamets imagine that if we partner with mycelia, we would be able to greatly accelerate our work to repair the damage we have done to our environment. And that gives me hope for our future.

With these mysterious mycelial allies just beneath my feet, I had the courage to write that sermon about nuclear weapons, and their haunting mushroom clouds of death. And each time I remember this old and vast elemental wisdom, I feel less fear. I feel more clearly that I am part of a larger network of beings who are contributing to the health and wholeness of the planet. As we reach out to the beautiful web of all beings, those beings are also reaching out to us.

How Mushrooms Can Help Us Save the World, Part One

Let me tell you a story. In our congregation we have an auction every other year and one of the things auctioned off is a chance to request a sermon topic. One year the member who won that auction item requested that I talk about nuclear weapons. Well, sure, I said… and then I put the suggestion in my sermon topic folder. Each month as I chose sermon topics for the next month, I would see it there, but I wasn’t sure yet what I would do with it. What could I say about nuclear weapons?

I was reminded of the old story about President Calvin Coolidge. One Sunday, with his wife sick, he went to church alone. Upon his return she asked, “What did the pastor talk about?” Coolidge said, “Sin.” “And what did the minister say about sin?” “He was against it.” Well that’s about what I had for nuclear weapons: I was against them.

For me, a worship service is meant to be about hope. And nuclear weapons are one of the most terrifying dangers that we face in our world. The mushroom cloud image of the atomic bomb represents the potential destruction of most life on earth. So I have to admit, I didn’t feel like researching how bad things were, what new weapons were being created, or who might try to use them. And most of all, I wasn’t sure what I could say next. I never want to send people home from worship with more fear or despair than they came in with. So the topic sat in my folder, and I occasionally added an article or resource to the file; but each month, I’d say, I’ll do that one later.

How do we face the biggest dangers that threaten our world? What gives us courage and hope? Several months later, I came upon an article about mushrooms. It was an interview with Paul Stamets, about How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.

I have to admit that I had never been a big fan of mushrooms. I tolerated their presence on pizza and in casserole dishes. I had never experimented with the psychedelic varieties back in college. A while ago, Margy started taking photos of mushrooms, as they popped up in our back yard, and that helped me to appreciate their strange and diverse beauty. But I had no idea.

I had no idea that mushrooms were the fruit of the mycelium, a vast underground network of fungal fibers that can stretch for miles. I had no idea that those fibers form one entity called a mycelial mat. I had no idea that a mycelial mat in eastern Oregon was considered by scientists to be the largest organism in the world. It covers twenty-two hundred acres and is more than two thousand years old.

I had no idea that mycelial networks regulate the nutrients of plant life in the forest, transferring sugars from tree species that have enough to other tree species that need more to survive. And most of all, I had no idea that mycelial networks communicate. To do this they use methods similar to those found in the nerve fibers in our own brains; they use some of the very same neurotransmitters that allow us to think.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

The Magic of Dawn

CardinalI was sitting on a blanket in a screen tent in the back yard, honoring the earth and all her creatures, when during my prayers, a cardinal started singing, and came to perch on the ground right near the tent. I felt so thankful for that visit.

I was pondering the big questions of my heart. I was asking, What is my greatest hope? And my heart answered, I hope that we find a way to live in harmony with all life on the earth, that our spirits wake up to experience the unity of all life, that we might join in that beautiful dance. But I also asked, What is my greatest fear? My heart answered, I am afraid that the greedy and powerful will kill all the trees, pollute the oceans, and destroy the animals and the people. I am afraid that humankind is broken beyond restoration, so cut off that we cannot find our way back to the unity.

And so my prayer was a prayer to find wholeness, to find joy. When the cardinal started to sing so close by, it reminded me of the magic of being outside, the place where my hope is restored. It also reminded me of the magic of waking up at dawn, the time when the cardinal and a host of other birds sing their most beautiful songs. They create together a dawn chorus.

I first learned about the magic of dawn from my Wampanoag friend gkisedtanamoogk. He had told me that the eastern peoples, called the Wabanaki, believed that dawn was the most sacred time of the day—the name Wabanaki means people of the first light, the first light of the sky before the sun rises over the horizon. This time was considered the best time to pray, to commune with the earth and the spirits within the earth.

A few days later, I woke early, and heard a cardinal singing outside my window, and that called me outside again. So I went out and sat on my blanket and tried again to open my heart to the world all around me. When I look at any writing in English, even the tag on the edge of the screen tent, I cannot help but read the writing there. Yet when I look at the plants or the mushrooms in our yard, I realize I do not know how to read the earth. I don’t know the names of many plants or their characteristics. Our species has become so isolated, so alone in our own thoughts and works. I wish I had a guide to teach me how to read the earth.

Slug in grassI saw a small slug moving slowly through the grass. As I was watching it, I wondered what it was reading about the earth, what chemical messages it found in the small trails through the grass. It was on its way toward a mushroom. I took photos of its small golden body, tried to pay attention to its slowness and intention as it climbed the mushroom stem. Even a slug can be a teacher.Slug on Mushroom

Listening to the cardinal singing, these words came into my heart: Whatever you do there is beauty in it: the work, the rest, the prayer, the play, the listening. Awaken to beauty, be present to it, the hidden beauty of the ordinary is like the muted beauty of the female cardinal. Dispel sadness, awaken to beauty and joy.