april 10/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
51 degrees

Spring! Spring! Spring! Sunny and warm. Shorts with no running tights. Lots of birds singing and drumming and casting big shadows across the path. Near the end of my run, I saw the shadows and stopped briefly to catch a flash of a soaring bird. An eagle or a kestrel or a hawk? It couldn’t be an owl, could it? Do they fly that high? Didn’t hear any rowers and barely noticed the river — even when I stopped at the overlook at the end of my run and was looking straight at it. I think I noticed the dirt trails leading down to the gorge the most. Heard some dogs barking down in the gorge. Ran past a peloton on the road. Saw some graffiti on the door of the porta-potty under the lake street bridge. Overheard a conversation, or one brief bit of a conversation:

walker 1: “I’ll just have to get up tomorrow and go to work, and forget about it.”
walker 2: “uh huh”

This reminds of something I heard yesterday from one biker to an other: “They don’t have a leg to stand on to fire him.” A leg to stand on? I don’t hear that expression that often anymore. Also, why was “he” being fired, and from where?

before the run

This popped up on my twitter feed:

Very cool. Read the article in The Guardian, then the study it linked to: Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity. Here’s a summary:

Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a striking structural similarity to human speech.


The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that these spikes often clustered into trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words, and that the distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched those of human languages.

Mushrooms communicate with each other using up to 50 ‘words’, scientists claim

I find this interesting — how they did it, by placing iridium coated spikes in their nerve centers and measuring electrical impulses, then analyzing the impulse clusters and comparing their length to human languages — but I’m particularly struck by the researches explanation of why this matters:

a modified conception of language of plants is considered to be a pathway towards ‘the de-objectification of plants and the recognition of their subjectivity and inherent worth and dignity’ [28].

Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity

So, to care for and grant dignity and worth to fungi we need to understand them to be as “smart as us” — that is, able to use language? Why? Even as I enjoyed reading this experiment and thinking about fungi communication as language, I wonder about its purpose and why we need fungi to speak in ways we can understand in order for them to have value. And, why do we assume that, 1. human language is the most valuable (or complex/sophisticated) and/or 2. to value something it needs to be like us? Perhaps I’m reading too much into their claim?

I found a comment at the end of the article that offers a useful critique from a slightly different perspective than mine:

This kind of anthropomorphic work would do well to define terms including words, language, information, and communication. These are technical terms in communicology and in linguistics but are indiscriminately used in this research. Plants do not produce meaning but merely exchange information. They do not, therefore, communicate in any human way. Language is not merely a syntactical system, as implied here. Language consists of the necessary components syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. In short, the image of the human cast over the findings is inappropriate. It is also not needed to make the research interesting.

comment on article from I Catt

I also found this poem about a type of mushroom (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) that invades carpenter ants:

The Ants/ Matthew Rorher

Nothing is more important to the ant
whose exoskeleton has been breached
by mushroom spores that are now
controlling his nervous system
and compelling him to climb to a high leaf
only to die and release the spores
over the whole forest
than this poem about his sad plight.

Otherwise his life is meaningless.
Forage. Chew. Recognize by scent.
Abdication of the will. A huge wind
that comes and sweeps his fellows
off the grass. When he dies up there
in the treetops the mushroom grows
right out of his head and breaks open
lightly dusting the afternoon.

Everything he thought he was here
on Earth to do has been left undone.
Through the trees
the spores move on their sinister ways.
I put down the science magazine written
for elementary school kids
in which I have briefly disappeared.

during the run

Stopped at the end of my run to record some of my scattered thoughts during the run:

  1. Remembering the poem about the parasitic mushrooms and the carpenter ants that a poet found in a kids’ science magazine. Why and how do we lose the wonder we had as kids?
  2. Then I was thinking about care, and why and how we care about things. What do we need to care? Do we care about things we can understand? That we know? That have use value for us? What about things that make us wonder and delight in their strangeness? Why can’t that be a reason to care?
  3. Finally, I was thinking about Alice Oswald and something she said in an interview about otherness and how our encounters with the land and nature are ones of encountering that which is alien and other to us. So, we don’t recognize nature in how it’s like us, or we’re like it, but in how it is strange to us.

after the run

Found Oswald’s words, or my rough transcription of them, from a podcast:

I exert incredible amounts of energy trying to see things from their own points of view rather than the human point of view.

It’s a day long effort to get your mind into the right position to live and speak well.

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

Does it always have to be terrifying? Can we access this strangeness through wonder and curiosity, and marvel that there is so much that is different, and more, than us?

Thinking about this idea of connecting to “things” and nature through making them like us, anthropomorphizing them, I just remembered a delightful poem I posted by Lisel Mueller this last fall:


What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.