Unexpected Acquaintances

I was walking behind the barn recently and spotted these large shelf mushrooms growing on an old log. I looked them up and found they are probably a type of inedible polypore, a family of wood decomposers.  That makes sense because of where they were growing. What struck me was their distinct funnel shape, which allows them to catch rain water and direct it towards their base.  I suppose seeing a mushroom more than a foot wide also made them quite distinctive.

Ever since this brief encounter I have been thinking about mushrooms and mycelium.  I even had a dream about mushrooms and when I awoke I felt a strong desire to read more about fungi so that I could understand them better.  Years ago I bought a book entitled “Mycelium Running, How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World” by Paul Stamets.  Now I feel impelled to start reading it, a strong desire to know more about the fungi that live in the woods and soil around my home.

This unexpected encounter makes me want to reach out and connect with this form of life, and perhaps the feeling is mutual.  I know that may sound strange, but perhaps strange is how we would describe communication with another species.  And why don’t we believe that life around us might try to connect with us?  Aren’t we as much a part of their world as they are a part of ours?  Isn’t that what anima/soul is all about, connecting with others as we explores the world around us?

Most humans disregard communication with non-humans because we don’t think plants or animals are intelligent.  We often disregard the feelings or consciousness of others.  Feelings are too subjective, improvable, and unscientific!  We only consider communication valid if it comes in the form of speech, sounds that are made in a pattern of words that we can understand.  Animals and birds communicate with sound but not in a language we understand.

Plants, fungi, and microbes communicate chemically in ways that the cells of our body can understand.  Researchers have found that microbes on our skin ‘talk’ to and teach our skin cells, train our immune system to recognize pathogens.  Microbes in our gut ‘talk’ with intestinal cells influencing digestion.  Perhaps the question we need to ponder is “How would life communicate with us if it didn’t use the language or made the sounds we understand?”

As we move through a world made up of climate controlled, human designed spaces, how can we expect to encounter other life forms?  If you were born blind and deaf, can you imagine how difficult it would be to learn to speak and communicate? By staying within the safe, comfortable spaces of home, car and office are we not limiting our ability to develop communication skills with life other than human?

Imagine a world ‘out there’ that is full of life, waiting for you to encounter it. What acquaintances might you discover in a walk through the woods, on a path beyond the edge of grass?  What would other forms of life tell us if we could only be patient enough to listen without expectation? What might we learn if we ‘listened’ with our feelings and empathy, and not just our ears? What might our heart hear that our head missed?

I wonder if other species of life on earth are aware of the extinctions occurring, of the climate that is changing.  Are we aware of how we affect the world with our application of chemicals to lawns, where our sewage goes when we flush the toilet,  the air pollution that spews from our vehicles and buildings?  What might the other species on earth try to communicate to humans if only we could understand?

2 Replies to “Unexpected Acquaintances”

  1. A beautiful post and some beautiful fungi. It is really fitting that you bring up fungi because they represent a lot of what this blog could be about – connections and learning from each /other in a horizontal, earthy, humble way. Fungi actually are the inspiration for the philosophy of a pair of French theorist (Delueze & Guattari or D&G) who say that we need to move away from the vertical hierarchy model and towards a horizontal, egalitarian model of connecting with each other. They call this the rhizomatic model. Here’s a link to a guy that uses the concept in education: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/11/05/rhizomatic-learning-why-learn/ Thank you again for sharing this beautiful post!

  2. “Perhaps the question we need to ponder is “How would life communicate with us if it didn’t use the language or made the sounds we understand?””
    I absolutely agree with that and would say that Iʻm trying to learn how to identify the moments of communication and be present for them because you have to be present and open and engaged, otherwise it just goes right over your head. Part of it is just being willing to take the idea seriously, and not think of it as impossible or childish, that the world can “talk” to you (and you can talk back.) In some sense this is what science is, trying to hear what the world is saying; in other ways it seems like science shuts out as much of the possibility of hearing and seeing the world as it opens up. Such as, scientists are not supposed to empathize with the “things” they describe. And yet…they tend to do exactly that. Which is a good thing.
    Your question about whether other species know about what is going on in terms of extinctions is a painful one to contemplate. I tend to think they do but not in the same way that we do, and not everywhere and to the same degree. There are some few places that are relatively intact. And I think it was D.H. Lawrence that said something about small birds and other wild things never feel sorry for themselves, even if they fall dead frozen from a tree. That kind of acceptance of the world is an amazing thing to contemplate.

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