A networking world

The idea of worlds within worlds completely fascinates me.  When I was very young I was easily convinced that fairies existed in their own miniature domain, flitting about between the plants doing alternatively sweet Disney things and darker, weirder things because I knew of old fairy stories too.  I invented landscapes inside myself because I was an oddly sentimental child and got a bit weird about eating certain foods.   In my mother’s and grandfather’s gardens entire universes were crafted from rocks, leaves, seedpods,  and generally anything that falls into a category referred to by my eldest as “Nature Debris”.   My mother has always built rockeries while still preferring a largely wild aesthetic throughout her gardens (a style I also prefer, though I am not, alas, much of a gardener, as yet at least.)  These gardens and regular trips to woods and mountains have provided my imagination with countless small galaxies.  What I consider odd, now I think on it, is that I didn’t tend to populate these worlds with animals or people, and while there were some mythological creatures knocking about, they were more like scenery, in some way; curiously empty places where I wandered, drawn to the miniature, to the tiny detail in texture, the recurring patterns in apparently random things.

The old way atom diagrams were described to children of the 70s and 80s led to speculation amoung the kids in our house that solar systems were atoms too, just writ large, and that the galaxy was just a bunch of atoms in various sizes,  all parts of bigger wholes, and weirdly all tessellating together.  If you kept scaling these up up and out eventually  all the smaller parts of bigger parts would resolve out to be God, or the Universe, or .. well something we couldn’t describe.   It never really got very much more sophisticated than that, but it was comforting in its way.   I think I’ve never really lost the idea that somehow everything that is or was is interconnected, that we are all small parts of an ever increasing larger whole.

When I walk into a wood, especially “my” woods like Blackwood, I love the sense of being a small moving dot in a vast complicated network, intricate and content, doing wildly alchemical things (sunlight into food! glomalin excretion! turning insects into zombies!) They are large areas of relatively undisturbed plant life.  The longer an area has undisturbed soils, the richer and more intricate are their mycorrhizal fungi networks.  Under every footfall of mine though the forest is many miles of delicate filament, in my imagination lighting up connections between trees and plants all over (warning: no actual light effect comes into play).

Mycor – rhiza (“fungus” – “root”)  describes the symbiotic relationship between plants – any plants – and a root fungus which colonizes those plants’ roots, extending the ability of the root system far into the soil through a vast network of  filaments.  It fascinates me that a filament network connects plants and forests and fields, invisible underfoot but rendering each plant’s roots far more effective in absorbing  nutrients and water than the roots are capable of themselves, by many orders of magnitude.  It also makes the plant less prone to attack by soil-borne pathogens, and hugely assists the plant to cope with environmental stresses such as drought and salinity.   In return the plant provides carbohydrates and other nutrients to the fungi, which in turn utilizes these carbohydrates for their growth and to synthesize and excrete molecules like glomalin (glycoprotein). The release of glomalin into the soil renders tougher nutrients like  organic nitrogen, phosphorus and iron more easily to the root system, vastly increasing soil fertility with nutrient availability and conservation.

I mentioned this to my eldest son as I was doing some reading about the nature of the symbiosis and he immediately had some interesting first impressions of the fungi “farming” the forest, which has bent my brain a little bit.  For my part I was completely caught up in the romance of “Everything is Connected”, community edition.    This is at least supported, I feel, by studies of older networks, where it was found that the mycorrhizal  network enables a sort of inter-plant “communication” for better adaptive behavior in plant communities.  (for example https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4497361/  )

I was thinking all of this many days ago because I had had a bad couple of days.  My head was not properly aligned with other people or the world at all really, having spun off into more depression and its associated lies.  I was persuaded and enabled to spend some time with friends I adore and was reflecting on how our interrelationships make me, a single plant, better able to function and take in things essential to my survival.   This is not a graceful metaphor, it gets muddy when you try to decide on the plants involved and what exactly the fungi is supposed to be and Eldest Son’ (ES)’s take on things.  I am only blogging, indulging a whim, not writing a technical paper or a philosophical treatise on the Nature of Friendship.  I suppose it’s just capturing a random idle musing in a moment and committing it to words, in the way I catch a random moment in time on a walk in the woods and describe that.

You see, I’ve been caught for days trying to figure out how to actually write something here.  Everything was too serious, or not serious enough.  I didn’t have research done, or I hadn’t thought my metaphor through.     “Weren’t you just supposed to be talking about the fact that you are fascinated this year with fungi and you want to start blogging about learning about those?” (I will be)   “Why are you talking about your mental health *again*, weren’t you done with that?” (Apparently I am not.)

I think I’ve been prompted because today I was reminded of an article I read about a very powerful twitter thread some months back by M. Molly Backes on a symptom of depression referred to as The Impossible Task.  I have been having enormous trouble doing very minor things.  I went from being an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism – making and researching cool projects, capable, reasonably skillful, unafraid of committing to projects and promises people were depending on me for – to someone who can’t seem to guarantee I can wash the floor or send a stupid official letter that just needs to be put in an envelope.  It is weird and is going on too long, and it seems to have latched on to my thinking about everything.  So rather than get frustrated at another impossible task – getting this blog post right – I decided I would just write.  I’ve been trying to “Just” write for years now.



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