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A Coven of Trees

First Witch: When shall we three meet again/In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch: When the hurlyburly’s done/When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch: That will be ere the set of sun…

Dark purposes aside, the Three Witches of Macbeth speak as if they were one. One incantation blends into the next without conflict, much like the way a song can hold many voices and instruments and still be self-contained. A lone tree in a field is not a grove, just as a grove is not a forest. While a rogue witch might hold tremendous power, a coven of witches are greater in their dynamic whole. Elemental diversity in their magics create a singular force to be reckoned with. But trees and witches must fight for limited resources, since there is only so much of the elemental supply to go round, water and light being the critical elements, in the case of trees. To go it alone, is to leave oneself open to threats from everywhere, from the tiny aphid, to the mighty tempest. Even a forest of trees cannot stand alone, just as a coven of witches cannot conjure without help from below.

Enter fungi, stage right.

Fungi are neither animal nor plant, even if we share nearly fifty percent of our genetic makeup with fungi. Their cell walls are made of chitin, the stuff of butterfly wings, making fungi more akin to insects. Fungi cannot photosynthesize, so they depend on other living organisms for food. The previous sentence might evoke literary and cinematic visions of body horror, or a Fungal Apocalypse, but fungi are complex in their ways. In Oregon, there is an underground fungus estimated to be over 2,000 years old and covers around 2,000 acres. It kills trees as it slowly makes its way through the forest. The horror! And then there are the kinds that use their fungal magic for symbiotic good.

A tree must be open to partnering up with the thousands of varieties of benevolent fungi. However, the openness it requires for fungal networking means that the tree allows the mycelium to grow into its delicate root hairs. Such vulnerability and softness is mind-boggling to imagine when standing beneath a behemoth oak. Strength begins and ends in the most delicate of places. In this union, the mycelium can creep along the forest floor and gather far more water and nutrients than roots alone could ever manage. This leads to an inter-connectedness with other trees, in a symbiosis of the collective which creates a Wood Wide Web. Now, the trees can share in the liquid bounty and vital ‘information’, like an aphid attack.

Much like witches, fungi are misunderstood and possess a complexity beyond our full understanding. Just as the wind only makes itself seen through what it moves, so the symbiotic relationship of mycelium and tree roots only really shows itself to passing eyes through the beautiful and flourishing trees of the forest.

Three Witches: Seek to know no more!

But, like Macbeth, we must.

Hayden Moore

October 29, 2021

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