It’s a rare 50-degree day in December. I’m walking through the wooded trails threaded through the conservation land near my house. I’m trying to get my Thoreau on, to plug into the GUS energy of this serene place hidden just out of reach of city limits, and all I can think about is my seventh grade science class.
Science and I had a few lovely years together before everything turned to ruin from quarks and vectors and string theory and other lurid things in the form of mass times velocity times the square root of 92. Not my scene, I said. We can still be friends, said Science. I doubt it, I said my head whipping around following the hot vapor trail left by the trio of bad boys: Literature, Music, Theatre. We hooked up once in college, Science and I (such a cliché) when he showed up in the form of my Ecology and Earth Science professor. She was some kind of enlightened hippy type who often quoted whole passages of Silent Spring in class. On the last day she recited a long, Native American poem about the spirit of the wolves; she closed it by lifting her small, round face to the ceiling of the giant lecture room and howling. I waited for ten minutes when class broke, standing around with other students like a nerd groupie just to tell her in a rush of breathy, nervous words how much I loved her class, me, one of 350 dots in the lecture hall.
I blame my relapse in the woods on these funny, little guys stuck to the sides of live trees and clinging to corpses of fallen logs. They seem to be everywhere or maybe it’s that property whereby once you key into a pattern—a sequence of numbers or a certain shape–it appears all over the place. Fancy Science probably has a long name for this phenom. Stupid, fancy Science. I’m often visually drawn to patterns anyway. I read once that people who’s lives tend to be orderly and maintained are attracted to patterned materials—Burberry plaids, fleur-de-lis wallpaper that kind of thing. In contrast, people’s whose lives involve chaos crave soothing solids, uniform stripes. Maybe this is why I find myself kneeling in forest gunk nose to nose with these screeds of fungi on a tree trunk lying on its side.
They look like they belong at the bottom of the ocean or clamped onto the belly of whale, these funky, beautiful fans. I’m struck by an absurd thought that the tree seems happy to have these fellow travelers on board. Thanks Shel Silverstein. And a word floats up from the Mariana trench of my mind: symbiosis. It feels like coming across a mix tape of Cure songs your boyfriend made you in high school (so many red flags), vaguely familiar, but also from a world far, far away.
Science tickles my ear and I recall symbiotic relationships are those where two different organisms benefit from one another in some way. At least that’s the gist of symbiosis that stuck with me from class several centuries prior. It’s give a little, get a little; it’s HARMONY because it’s usually two different creatures not only peacefully co-existing, but finding some mutual value in their arrangement.
Why is harmony so simple for fungus, lower-level functioning critters, basic folk, if you will, and such a challenge for the rest of us upright lumberers? What do the ‘shrooms know that we have yet to master?
Maybe the concept, basic as it is, is too intimidating. Giving and receiving, like, at the same time? It seems like we can only handle doing one at a time or else some kind of white, hot guilt center rages in our tiny, taxed brains and we put the brakes on. Let me do this for you, but don’t you DARE go and do anything for me! This feels familiar, but truthfully it’s kind of fucked up. We don’t have to keep score, you know. We don’t have to “owe,” one another in the sense of debt and balances. We could try accepting harmony as part of the natural order of things and let ourselves slip into an ebb and flow of exchange that isn’t tied to anything other than something that might be described as right energy, or what I often refer to as good “juju.”
Yeah, you heard me fancy Science, “good juju” got a better ten-dollar word for that? I thought not.
The crazy mushrooms are full up on good juju. One look at their luminous faces rippling in the late afternoon sunlight tells me everything I need to know about the way forward.
I stand up and brush the pine from my knees, suddenly self-conscious in the empty hush of the woods; I follow the thin bands of winter light back to where I began.