april 8/RUN

4.75 miles
Veterans’ Home loop
39 degrees
wind: 12 mph, 21 mph gusts

Sunny and windy and cold. I’m ready to put away my running vest and tights. Headed south to the falls. Noticed how the river was sparkling in the distance as I ran above the gorge. Heard kids yelling at the Minnehaha Academy playground. I thought I heard someone yell, “Girl! Girl!” in an accusing way. Kept listening. The underlying hum of all the noise seemed menacing, not like kids having fun on the playground, but kids being mean to each other. Was I hearing that right? Watched the creek as it rumbled over the falls. Later, going down the hill above Locks and Dam No. 1, I noticed a small eddy in the water. I almost stopped to stare, but didn’t. Thought about how many benches were occupied with a person sitting, admiring the view. Descended to the Winchell Trail and appreciated the bare branches and the empty space they offered. Heard the sewer pipe at 42nd gushing water.

before the run

Today’s dirt topic is: fungi, decomposition, entanglement, mycelium. Here are some words/ideas I want to gather:

1 — decomposition of the self

RG: One of my favorite metaphors when I talk about joy is a mycelial metaphor. It’s like the story or the fact that in healthy forests, there’s constant communication happening in the soil. It’s a shuttling of nutrients that is trying to make this system work or this system live. Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World does a lot of this in thinking about ruins, capitalism, and stuff. But I consider it a childish notion of joy, I’m just saying it’s not joy, I’m saying it’s something else and something that I’m not aspiring too actually, it does probably like the feeling of being a really free discreet individual, not beholden. That is a kind of joy or happiness. I like the word buoyant, you can lift above everything as opposed to what we know biologically, etc. is the case, that doesn’t happen, [laughs] it just doesn’t happen nor is that my aspiration. If it is my aspiration, despite my best intentions, I don’t want it to be. My practice is toward entanglement, toward recognizing.

DN: Is it toward a decomposition of the self? Like when I think of the way these mushrooms are the result of death but they’re also the processors of death 

RG: Yeah. One of the things that’s so great about a garden is that you’re studying a kind of mutuality. A healthy garden has a lot of the life that comes from decomposition and it seems like hanging around that alerts us to decomposition but it also alerts us to what emerges, what happens in a garden, what happens from decomposition which is food and flowers, then which is related to all these critters, like gazillion critters that are making this happen.

Between the Covers Interview with Ross Gay

2 — mutuality and symbiosis, underneath and on the edges

A mycelium is a network of fungal threads or hyphae. Mycelia often grow underground but can also thrive in other places such as rotting tree trunks. A single spore can develop into a mycelium. The fruiting bodies of fungi, such as mushrooms, can sprout from a mycelium.

Mycelia are of vital importance to the soil. They break down organic material, making its raw materials available again for use in the ecosystem. On top of this, 92% of plant families interact with fungi. This kind of symbiosis is termed mycorrhiza. Hyphae are also an important source of food for insects and other invertebrates.


The term “mycorrhiza” is assembled from Greek words for “fungus” and “root”; fungi and plant roots become intimately entangled in mycorrhizal relations. Neither the fungus nor the plant can flourish without the activity of the other (see pages 137-139 for a more detailed discussion).

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins/ Anna Tsing

Ross Gay: And it’s basically sort of talking about how mycelium … the more and more we know, is that like, you know, healthy forests are really connected. And there’s all this shuttling of nutrients and all of this other information. Like this knowledge beyond anything that we can ever comprehend. But finally, we’re starting to like, tap it a little bit, or become aware of it a little bit. But she’s sort of talking about how mushrooms themselves and that whole sort of world, they resist things of like scale, the way the plantation, the logics of the plantation have a certain kind of relationship to scale, you know. Like, if we could make like, 10 of these, how do we figure out how to make a hundred of these. How do we figure—

Ross Gay: You know, mushrooms resist capitalist logics. They just resist it.

Ross Gay: They’re kind of funny that way, you know.

Franny Choi: Wait, how do mushroom’s resist that, like, plantation scale?

Ross Gay: Because you can’t plant mushrooms like that.

Ross Gay: You know, you can’t—you know, to some extent, you can. But certain mushrooms, like she’s studying this mushroom called matsutake mushroom. And it comes when it comes, you know.

Ross Gay: And people who know—and a lot of the people who know who are foragers are sort of marginal people. So, in the margins, there’s this different relationship. And folks are selling them and all this stuff. So they’re in a kind of market. But the market is this other kind of market.

Ross Gay vs. Entanglement

3 — precarity and alienation

To live with precarity requires more than railing at those who put us here (although that seems useful too, and I’m not against it). We might look around to notice this strange new world, and we stretch our imagination to grasp its contours. This is where mushrooms help. Matsutake’s willingness to emerge in blasted landscapes allows us to explore the ruins that has become our collective home.

Matsutake are wild mushrooms that live in human-disturbed forests. Like rats, raccoons, and cockroaches, they are willing to put up with some of the environmental messes humans have made….

…the history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and nonhumans into resources for investment. This history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter. Through alienation, people and things become mobile assets; they can be removed from their life worlds in distance-defying transport to be exchanged with other assets from other life worlds, elsewhere….Alienation obviates living-space entanglements. The dream of alienation inspires landscape modification in which only one stand-alone asset matters; everything else becomes weeds or waste.

The Mushroom at the End of the World

4 — the fungus among us

The Puotinen family farm, sold in 2005, is located 12 miles from Crystal Falls, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. It’s where my dad, in the late 50s, went to high school, and where my Grandma Ines, in the 70s (I think?) worked as a secretary at a gas company. As a kid, living in North Carolina or Virginia or Iowa, I would visit it in the summer. I never went to the Humoungus Fungus Festival, but I remember hearing about it.

It was three decades ago when the Armillaria gallica was discovered near Crystal Falls. 

The city since has celebrated the world’s largest continuous mushroom by playing host to the Humongous Fungus Festival. The living organism spreads over more than 37 subterranean acres, weighs an estimated 100 tons and is about 1,500 years old.

The fun fungus among us

And here’s the trailer for a new documentary about the fungus. Nice!

5 — mushroom valley

Wondering about what kinds of mushrooms exist here at the Mississippi River Gorge, I searched and found out about the caves of Mushroom Valley in St. Paul.

According to the boast, it was the mushroom capital of the Midwest. “Mushroom Valley” was the informal name for several miles of the Mississippi River gorge in St. Paul, including what are now Plato, Water, and Joy Streets. The mushrooms were grown in the more than 50 caves dug out of the soft St. Peter Sandstone bluffs. Although called caves, they were man-made, often beginning as silica (sand) mines and later used for various purposes. One cave operated by the Becker Sand & Mushroom Company was the largest of all with 35-foot ceilings and nearly a mile of passages. Its wonderful hybrid name epitomized the valley and the multiple uses of the caves found there. Other uses included the aging of blue cheese, lagering, storage, and even nightclubs.

According to the article, these caves began in the 1880s. The last was cleared out in the 1980s with the creation of Harriet Island-Lilydale Regional Park. Wow. Reading a little further, the more known name for these caves is the Wabasha Street Caves. You can take a tour and hear stories about their speakeasy past. The caves housed an underground nightclub, Castle Royal, in the 20s. They were used again for growing mushrooms (and cheese and beer) in the 30s and up until the 80s.

6 — call for poems on entanglement

Do I want to try and submit something for this call for poems?

EcoTheo Review invites poems that explore the relationship between ecology and theology, our senses of nature and place as well as our senses of spirituality and divinity. For our Summer print issue we will be particularly interested in work that addresses themes of entanglement. How do the root systems of plants and the architecture of mycelia, lichens, etc. reflect and contrast human forms of entanglement? In what ways do images of wrestling with spiritual beings inspire and trouble us? Where do you find hope and where do you long for healing in our entangled bodies? 

EcoTheo Review

7 — Arthur Sze

Entanglement/ Arthur Sze

Before sunrise, you listen for deer beyond
the gate: no signs of turkeys roosting on branches,
no black bear overturning garbage bins
along the street. The day glimmers
like waves undulating with the tide:
you toss another yellow cedar log
into the wood stove on the float house;
a great blue heron flaps its wings,
settles on the railing outside the window;
a thin low cloud of smoke hangs over the bay.
When you least expect it, your field
of vision* tears, and an underlying landscape
reveals a radiating moment in time.
Today you put aside the newspaper,
soak strawberry plants in a garden bed;
yet, standing on land, you feel the rise
and fall of a float house, how the earth
under your feet is not fixed but moves with the tide.

*I put a post-it note on the cover of Sze’s collection of poems: “so many references to failing vision in later poems.” For example, in another section of this poem, Sze refers to floaters — “floaters in my eyes wherever I go.” Floaters can indicate a retinal tear.

AS: I do. I want to personalize it and say that again, this came very slowly over time. Years ago, my son picked up a mushroom on a lawn and I was like, “Don’t eat that.” I didn’t know anything about mushrooms, I was just like the alarm father saying, “Wait a minute, you don’t know what you have there, you could die from it.” Then a few months later, my son and I saw that at Santa Fe Community College, a local mycologist, Bill Isaacs, was teaching a mushroom identification class and I thought, “This would be great bonding for father and son. We’ll go out and hunt mushrooms. This will be fun and we could learn something.” My son loved the idea. He was really into it, so we signed up and every Saturday for eight weeks in the summer, we joined this group and we would go out into the mountains of Northern New Mexico, and hunt for an hour. We’d bring back everything we found and we’d lay them out on park benches, and tables and Bill would say, “Oh, you’re going to die from this one.” He was the head of the New Mexico Poison Control, so it wasn’t just learning the choice edibles, it was  learning this whole arena of new knowledge. Then it fascinated me to see the early, middle, and late stages of the mushroom. It also fascinated me that I couldn’t identify any of them by looking in a field guide. I didn’t know what to look for. In the rocky mountains, there are different varieties, there are all these special nuances and Bill would say, “Well, why didn’t you dig out the bottom below the surface because we need that information?” I was like, “Well, I didn’t know how to do that. I just cut it off at the ground.” He’s like, “You missed crucial stuff.” It was like this whole learning of a new ecology, a new field that I loved going out into nature every Saturday and Sunday. We did it for like six summers. Again, it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to learn mushrooms and that’s going to be like this metaphor for language.” It was just a wonderful thing to do with my son. I got really excited by it. Of course, the edible ones are delicious. It was a lot of fun and it was also a challenge. I began to really like going into an environment and knowing, for instance, if I go to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, and I’m at ten thousand feet where ponderosa pine is too low, I’m not even going to find any of the boletes and chanterelles, the really choice edibles. I’ve got to get higher up into the spruce and fir. I loved learning breeding a landscape, like even before looking at a mushroom, I had to look at the vegetation and what wildflowers were blooming. It was a way for me to really experience nature in a kind of detail I had never done before, then to be hunting the mushrooms, collecting them, and also scattering them in these baskets. It just became a whole new field of learning. Then ultimately, I began to think I love this idea that the mycelium is below the surface. It’s like the subconscious, then when the mushroom fruits pops up above ground, maybe that’s like this spontaneous outpouring of a poem or whatever. You can be too logical or whatever. 

Between the Covers with Arthur Sze

during the run

I didn’t really think about mushrooms while I ran, but I did think about decomposition as deconstructing and undoing as I ran over the asphalt that is reverting to dirt in the first stretch of the Winchell Trail. I thought, when things break down through decomposition, they aren’t being destroyed, with nothing to replace them. Instead, something new is created. I thought, in vague, broad terms, about the different ways humans and industry and birds and water and soil and rock are entangled. I wonder what was the difference between the terms “symbiosis” and “entanglement.” Finally, and for more time than anything else, I thought about Arthur Sze’s poem and his lines:

your field
of vision tears, and an underlying landscape
reveals a radiating moment in time.

I reflected on the underlying landscape as layers that can’t be seen with your eyes, only smelled or felt or imagined. And I delighted in the idea of so much happening, so much present beneath me that I couldn’t see, that I didn’t need to see, for it to exist or to affect me or to be connected to me.

after the run

I want to know, What is the distinction between symbiosis and entanglement? Found the article, Entangled Flourishings: Ideas in Conversation with Resisting Reductions, with the following description: “Dominant paradigms of ecology reduce life into ‘parts,’ failing to articulate the symbiosis of such communities, or of organisms as intricately nested collectives. To understand organisms, we must use the language of symbiotic ecology.” Here’s an awesome phrase that should be the title of a poem, or a line in a poem:

organisms are ecosystems

Skimming through the article, I found a part which reminded me of what I had already read in Tsing before leaving for my run. Symbiotic relationships are mutually advantageous. But to be entangled doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the interactions will be beneficial. In the article, the authors argue that this means the relationship is one of ongoing negotiations, where “the relationship is dynamic. It is constantly negotiated. At any one time, plants or fungi may be giving more than they receive, or vice versa.” If I’m reading Tsing correctly, the affiliations/connections aren’t a one-to-one relationship or set of negotiations, but part of a much broader network of entanglements with a wide range of organisms having an impact on each other in a broad range of unanticipated ways:

But many ectomycorrhizas are not limited to one collaboration: the fungus forms a network across plants. In a forest, fungi connect not just trees of the same species, but often many species. If you cover a tree in the forest, depriving its leaves of light and thus food, its mycorrhizal associates may feed it from teh carbohydrates of other trees in the network. Some commentators compare mycorrhizal networks to the Internet, writing of the “woodwide web.” Mycorrhizas form an infrastructure of interspecies interconnection, carrying information across the forest.

The Mushroom at the End of the World

I’m ending this packed post with a couple paragraphs from an essay for Guernica, “Mycelium“:

Everyone is excited about mushrooms this year. A friend says it’s because they thrive amidst decay and death, making new life under the rot. I’d never noticed before this summer that the forest is half rot, half life. All the fallen trees, twisting slowly into the ground, all the mushrooms growing on the downed trees, and speckling the trunks with their Turkey Tails and Chicken of the Woods and Shelf Mushrooms. I used to think of the woods as a slowly changing place, turned by seasons, but it’s constantly in motion. If I could get closer, closer, maybe I could hear the leaves sprouting and disintegrating, the fungus spreading underground, and bark cells multiplying.

Out at Echo Lake, I notice all the birches that take root in the rotting stumps, making their homes from decay. How strong those curved roots are, how cunning to find purchase here, in what might look useless. I notice trees perched on cliffs, clinging with curled roots to the dirt, and impossibly arched trunks that reach out over rivers or other trees. My favorite is the pine tree that tilts further and further toward the lake each year but is somehow still alive.

Mycelium / Rachel May

Something to try on a future run: notice and remember the decay. Make a list of what’s rotting, and what’s growing out of that rot.