Fantastic Fungi


One year, when I was five years old, my family lived across the road from a farmhouse in which a woman grew mushrooms in her basement. I loved going over there, descending the stairs to the dark room within which tiny white mushrooms sprouted. There was something eerily magical about these round white beings emerging from the darkness.

My mother disliked the fact that the mushrooms grew in manure, and she insisted that I wash my hands carefully after I’d been there. Mrs. P., the mushroom grower, also insisted that I wash my hands when I returned upstairs before she gave me one of the little marzipan mushrooms she produced in her spotless white kitchen. The contrast between the light and the dark, the pristine and the murky — what was above and what below — was remarkable.

Similar contrasts have come to mind these last few days while awaiting the results of the election in the country beneath us. On election night I did not watch the news but instead rented the video entitled Fabulous Fungi: learned about the extraordinary world of mycelium, the variety of mushrooms that grow above the ground and the intelligent network of communication that takes place below.

It made me feel hopeful.

It looks like the United States will have a new President, for which I am grateful, but it’s clear that difficult times are ahead. Not only is there the spiralling Covid crisis with more than a thousand people dying there each day, there’s also unemployment, increased violence, long term inequities of race and income and a host of other pressing issues. Half the people will be glad of the election result and half will be furiously angry. And, of course, all of those problems, inequities and divisions exist in our own country.

Around the world, the Covid numbers rise and lockdowns increase. The months ahead look dark and I as myself: how can we best carry on?

Well, then I think about the modest mushrooms. About trees. About connections. About that invisible self-learning underground network which is all about communication, cooperation, collaboration, connectedness, community. Once again it is all about the C-words! I think that they are the reason that  the next US President had the momentum to win the election. Those are the things that he’s known for.

And the fantastic fungi have even more mysterious things to teach us. I’d like to know more about psylocibin and I hope it’s available to me if I succumb to dementia or the virus.

There’s a peaceful feeling of oneness when one thinks of the threading branches that decompose, stabilize and recycle everything around them. It may be, as Fantastic Fungi suggests, that the answers to our most pressing problems are very close to us.

Perhaps they are right under our feet, in the deep ecology of nature.

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