By Rowan Willow
November 13, 2018
Holy heck! There are so many mushrooms in the Gila. Patches of massive and delicate silver mushrooms the size of your head erupt from the base of trees. Entire fallen trees are lined with perfect rows of velvety turkey tails. Deep reddish brown mushrooms that feel almost like Styrofoam are nestled in the brush on an old stump. During my first mushroom haul, I showed Erin a handful of some of the silver ones by my campsite and she exclaimed “THERE'S SO MUCH ABUNDANCE HERE, IT ISN’T REAL.”
All those mushrooms are the final stage in the life cycle of complex mycelial networks that exist in a clandestine subterranean landscape just under our feet. These exist to the fungi to solely spread spores, although in that process they become food for many species and a source of wonderment for me, specifically. Disturbing and picking mushrooms can be good for the wellbeing of the mycelial population, because it can help spread spores faster and over larger areas. Still, the relationship between me and the mushrooms was important, so I asked each one if I could pick it. That brings up a lot of questions about human relationships to plants. We all know overharvesting can lead to decline of a population, which can lead to larger ecological consequences, but we also can’t separate our lives from the lives of plants. They feed us and inspire us and build our homes, and we can’t just export the task of removing them from the ground as an attempt relieve our own guilt. Sometimes, beauty can be disturbed in order to make other beautiful things, and if we don’t remove ourselves from the “natural world,” we can take part in that full practice and focus on healthy methods of harvesting and honoring the plant that gave its life for us. We have separated ourselves so much from spaces of abundance like the Gila that our own presence in them makes us uncomfortable, partially because we know we are a force of destruction. But we don’t have to be. We can work with nature instead of in opposition to it.