Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The Wood Wide Web

“Mats of mycorrhizal cabling link trees into gigantic, smart communities spread across hundreds of acres. Together, they form vast trading networks of goods, services and information…”     

                                                            - Richard Powers: The Overstory (p. 218)

Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, calls this phenomena “the wood-wide web” and in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, describes it thus:

“All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.

Scientists call these mycorrhizal networks. The fine, hairlike root tips of trees join together with microscopic fungal filaments to form the basic links of the network, which appears to operate as a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, or perhaps an economic exchange.”

Isn’t that interesting? Indigenous peoples living close to the earth have long suspected the same, though with a different language and more direct spiritual connection. Jung talked about something similar in his notion of the collective unconsciousness, a shared sentience between human beings arising in myths and stories, psychological breakdowns and breakthroughs. The World Wide Web made the connections between people literal, but no mere signals through wires or wireless changes the content of what we share. 


Buried somewhere amidst these various connective systems is the feeling that some of us have about being more intimately connected with each other than we ever have before. The unthinkable (a mere three years ago) of a world-wide pandemic in which not a single continent was spared, the warning signs of severe climate change arising everywhere, have linked us together in new ways. Alongside the more positive signs of people waking up determined to bring more kindness, compassion and justice into themselves and the world as large. Yes, there is Putin and the Republicans and other regressive de-evolutionary sub-humans purposefully missing the memo, but those tuning into the invisible (and visible) threads connecting us feel both the pain and the excitement of such connection. Suddenly what is happening in Ukraine is not just casually dismissed as something far away, but it is intimate and close to us all, a distress signal passed along the psychic mycorrhizal network alerting us all to change our behavior. 

Having just spent time with the ponderosa pines and white firs and incense cedars and other beautiful tree-beings in the Yosemite Valley, there’s no question of their superior intelligence in many areas. None of them read tracts about White Fir Superiority or insult the lowly live oak tree or get their water in plastic bottles. So why not follow their lead, humble ourselves down to the mycelium level and strengthen our “gigantic, smart communities spread across millions of acres and form vast trading networks of goods, services and information.“ And love. 


To our comrades in the Ukraine, we ache for you, feel your suffering from a distance and send the food of love to nourish your roots and keep them strong. 

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