Unearthed Chatter: From the Radioactive to the Storm
Where others go on, I stay in one place.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
The space of thoughts can span the Universe and hold an imagined world in a thimble. Thoughts can stretch without thinning, expand while growing thicker, all while avoiding the paradoxes such courses would entail in the world outside the mind. A teacup will only hold a teacup’s full of water, even if the whole kettle is poured over it. Lightning gives rise to fire, but fire exhausted falls back into airborne latency. Such phenomena have a beautiful harmony to them, a thinkable use of space and the elements with relatively defined limits. Thoughts, too, have limits, but not in the sense of the worldly space all around. To stand in the woods — or some other unfinished space — is to be pressing upon a fundamental attribute of Nature that works like the mind, bending time and space, pulsing with electrical restlessness, in a network of ceaseless chatter, unheard by those with ears of flesh, yet the chattering remains.
All life on land, including my own, depended on these networks.
— Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life
In the case of the Fungal Kingdom, the beginning is the end. Fungi provided a filigreed bridge leading creatures out of the sea and gave rise to everything from the Redwoods to the rose. Volcanic islands, still smoldering in creation, will find life through the Ur-fungi that lay the groundwork. In the lifeless places of Chernobyl, fungi has been found growing in and around the ‘hot’ molecules of the notorious reactor, drinking up the radiation like a leaf would the summer sunlight. Just as the human brain remains a crowning mystery — from the nature of memory, to thinking itself — so the mycelium network chatters in a ‘language’ beyond our comprehension. Every footstep activates an estimated three-hundred miles of entangled mycelium, a complex cluster indicative of the super-condensed and dark workings of the brain. Rain falls and the bouquet of the woods greet the nose, reminding the conscious visitor that she truly is in the woods. But that smell is from a hidden source, one that lies beneath the mighty oaks and maples that seem to give rise to it, trees that would never exist without the subterranean network. The dank smell of the woods comes from the fungi, the enchanted ground right beneath one’s feet. This is the rich breath of life and death. Nothing would exist without fungi, not in this kind of world, not even the clouds in the sky.
Things keep their secrets.
Spores are everywhere and nowhere, in every breath and most often invisible to the naked eye. Those spores are carried by the wind, thrust up into the atmosphere by thermals where they ‘seed’ the sky, allowing invisible water droplets to gather and cluster into clouds. While spores are by no means the seeds of all clouds, since everything from good ole’ dust — probably becoming so through the metabolizing fungi — to particles from a plane’s exhaust, all these elements act in a similar way. But the sheer omnipresence of spores across this chattering globe changes everything, always, like magic on the wind. Even lightning can thank the spores for its brief moment of splendor, since the storm was born from spores. From the half-life of ever-ruining reactors, to the absence of light underground, fungi marked the beginning through filigreed chatter and will probably be the last thing to utter a sound, not an End with a bang or a whimper, but a flicker in the darkness. For now, mycelium is the hidden Kingdom holding this broken world together, just as it always has.