Fungi in Elfland: The Wood Wide Web and the Interconnectedness of Creation

Fungi in Elfland: The Wood Wide Web and the Interconnectedness of Creation August 10, 2016

David Russell Mosley

A picture my wife took as we walked around Lake Windermere

Ordinary Time
10 August 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Readers,

Yesterday I finally sat down and read the article “THE SECRETS OF THE WOOD WIDE WEB.” I will admit from the start that my reading of this article was based on a misreading of a single quotation. I thought the article had said:

“The revelation of the Wood Wide Web’s existence, and the increased understanding of its functions, raises big questions—about where species begin and end; about whether forests might be better imagined as a single superorganism, rather than a grouping of independent individualistic ones; and about what trading, sharing, or even friendship might mean among plants.”

I thought the article was suggesting we think of all forests as a single superorganism, an idea to which I will return. In reality, this fascinating article says that we might better consider individual forests as a single organism. This is because of a new discovery in the way mycorrhizal fungi interact with the plants to which they attach themselves. In essence, or at least so far as this non-scientist can parse it out, these fungi actually allow the various plants in a forest to communicate with one another.

Merlin Sheldrake, who has some odd tendencies that do, apparently, include snorting the spores of the mycorrhizal fungi (at least once), is the young scientist doing this research. He is studying Voyria, which is, as I understand it, a kind of fungus that doesn’t seem to function in perfect symbiosis and yet also isn’t a parasite.

The article is a fascinating read and the idea of the Wood Wide Web is certainly attractive, especially to me. I am, I must admit, taken by this notion that there is a unifying integrity to the individual forest. Of course, I already believer there to be one whether fungi play a role in this or not.

When I first misread the above quotation, my mind immediately went to how I view Faërie, both broadly and within my own fiction. Each forest contains, or better, is contained by Elfland. So that the elves and other creatures you might meet in a forest in England would be similar to, if not the same as, the ones you might meet in a forest in America. There is an inherent connection between the woods that does not follow the normal rules of geography or physics. I think we see something of this when we make our ways into woods, or at least I do. All forests are different and yet, somehow, the feel familiar, as if they were related to one another in a way that transcends the rather simple fact that both contain trees.

Once I properly understood the quotation, my mind was taken a different direction, to Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. In the book, we are told that this ancient forest, Ryhope Wood, is, in a sense alive with the presence of the mythagos, creatures who come out when the world needs. They are the heroes of our myths. Now, I can’t say I remember the story perfectly. But, this notion of a living forest that can, in a sense, communicate with itself.

This brings me to Laudato Si’. I’m still working on a longer post on this encyclical and Elfland, but I can’t let a post about forests get this far without bringing up Laudato Si’. In the encyclical, Pope Francis talks about the care for our “common home.” This commonness reminds us not only that we share this world, but that this world is interconnected. Not only is it interconnected in a way that means mistreatment of forests in South America effects us all, but that forests themselves are connected.

Michael Martin wrote concerning this encyclical:

A medieval ethos permeates the document in several ways. First, it appears in the Holy Father’s emphasis—throughout virtually every page of the document—that we “speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world” (11), an affirmation of God’s abiding presence in all that is.

It is this sense of fraternity, of “God’s abiding presence in all that is” that I see when I read about the Wood Wide Web. It is this sense of what I often call Faërie or Elfland, this interconnectedness and this sense of God’s presence in created reality that I see when I see science, even if it is a little off the beaten path, like that being done by Merlin Sheldrake. It is an attempt to see the interconnectedness of creation. Even should the Wood Wide Web be disproven, I am glad to know there are scientists out there who want to do science not simply in the lab, but in nature.


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