Five teachings from the forest


Agnes in an autumn forest kneeling down to look at a Trooping Funnel mushroom

“Mud” is how I answered the question of “what do you want more of in your life?” 10 years ago. I was in 20s living in London and working a desk based job and was asked this question as part of an assertiveness training I attended (it was an incredible experience that was more life like coaching). Fast forward to my 30s and I've just spent an autumn revelling in the mud, the Earth, the soil as part of my Rooted | Adventure under the ancient forest where trees and fungi talk.
 
I truly believe that re-establishing an intimate relationship with both the wild nature inside us and the nature of the more-than-human world is a missing piece in the action against climate change. As we deepen our understanding of and relationship with the messy, beautiful universe of which we are part, we begin to learn from different ways of being – or perhaps, more accurately, the more-than-human world begins to reveal itself and teach us. We enter into a relationship filled with hope and love and it is from this place we then act.
 
I created the Stardust Adventures for us to enrich our experience of and relationship to the messy beautiful universe.  This autumn, I ventured on a journey with other like-minded souls deep into the earth of the ancient forest. Slowly, our experience of the mud of the forest floor transformed to one filled with life and richness. I wanted to share a few things that we discovered along our way and that I discovered about myself: 

1. FUNGI ARE NOT PLANTS

Fungi are another kingdom of life, like animals and plants, and on the tree of life lie closer to animals than humans. This knowledge challenged my assumptions about fungi and the mushrooms they create and reminded me how much I have (falsely) learned that humans are the pinnacle of evolution. Some even believe fungi are sentient:

“The mycelium [fungal network] is sentient. It knows that you are there. When you wall across landscapes it leaps up in the aftermath of your footsteps trying to grab debris." - Paul Stamets from his TED talk 6 ways mushrooms can save the world

2. Mycorrhizal (fungi-root) networks allowed life on earth to thrive

Mycorrhizal (fungi-root) networks are ancient and vital for life to thrive on earth. Fungi gave algae the root systems they needed to come out of the water and onto land. The plant-fungi thrived on the land, enriching the atmosphere with life-giving oxygen. Humans have been around 0.00075% of the time that mycorrhizal networks have been on this planet. We have much to learn from these ancient relationships.

Watch Professor Martin Bidartondo, Mycologist, Imperial College London and Kew Gardens talk about this most humbling of stories (get access to the full interview when you join Rewild Your Soul) :

3. Fungi-root associations make us question our individuality

Different plants associate with fungi in different ways. In some plants fungi wrap themselves around the root cells, in others, the plant allows the fungi into its cells where the fungus creates a variety of beautiful structures – from coils to tiny trees (arbuscular). In each case the fungus and the plant need each other to thrive. The plant is an organ of the fungus and the fungus is an organ of the plant. We are also host to bacteria and tiny creatures that depend on us and on which we depend. We are, in the words of Tamu Thomas, “ecosystems within ecosystems within ecosystems”. As we nourish ourselves, we nourish our ecosystems.

"Fungal networks form physical connections between plants. It is the difference between having twenty acquaintances, and having twenty acquaintances with whom one shares a circulatory system."- from Entangled Lives by Merlin Sheldrake

Fungal networks are happenings (and so are we?)

Fungal networks are in a constant state of becoming – there are no recognisable organs like a head or feet. Instead fungal threads fuse, split, grow and shrink according to external chemical signals. Though humans can never understand exactly what life would be like if we were fungi, us adventurers found this concept a useful metaphor for life – rather than a person traveling to a particular destination (e.g. society's definition of “success”) we are all in a constant state of happening, of becoming. This has changed how I see myself, my work and my creativity.

"Nature...seems increasingly better understood in fungal terms:
...as an assemblage of entanglements of which we are messily part."
- from Underland by Robert Macfarlane

5. Prioritising time outside nourished my relationship with my body<

I was proud that I gifted myself an hour out in the woods every week of the adventure. It wasn’t always easy to do and I often felt I was ‘behind’ with other work. I was quite up and down this Autumn due to several nights of insomnia. In my visits to the wood, I began to notice sensations in my body I had suppressed. Guided by a session with Dr Ruth Allen from White Peak Wellbeing given as part of the Rooted Adventure, I noticed how my sense of rootedness was felt in the lower half of my body – a part I had long been taught to reject for not being “thin/toned/athletic enough” and started to wonder how that rejection had also affected my sense of feeling rooted or grounded. Yet every time I immersed myself in the earth of the ancient forest – sketching, learning about the fungi and trees, collecting treasures, struggling with identifying mushrooms, rummaging in the mud – I left feeling refreshed, nourished and more rooted.

A GIFT FROM THE FOREST

At the end of the Rooted Adventure, I was rewarded with an incredible gift. Week after week I'd been going back the same Oak tree in my local wood. Gradually, I began to see Trooping Funnel mushrooms appear at the base of the Oak. Each time I went more would appear – little glowing pale yellow lanterns lighting up the dark rich earth. On the last week of the adventure, I got to my spot only to find a chain of Trooping Funnel mushrooms from the Oak tree all the way over to an Ash tree about 7 metres away.

A bit of research told me that the mushrooms were part of a mycorrhizal fungus, i.e. a fungus that connects with plants. Lying in front of me was a visual trail of the incredible fungal network thriving under the soil between the Oak and the Ash. Allowing the trees to connect, allowing nutrients to be shared. It was as though the mud I had craved in my 20s has led me to this moment. Seeing this beautiful chain of mushrooms linking one tree to the other, felt like a gift from the forest. 

When we allow ourselves to re-establish a relationship both with our inner wild and the more-than-human world magical things happen. Hidden worlds reveal themselves, new ways of being are presented to us and we realise how lucky we are to be part of this beautiful Earth.

If you are feeling called to deepen your relationship with nature, I warmly invite you to take a look at my year long experience Rewild Your Soul - A Year of Seasonal Adventures, opening for enrolment each Autumn and Spring.


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