It interests me that September 30th was declared Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada because this is the day I was born and this is where I think we need to begin. Truth and Reconciliation is about acknowledging the wound and healing the split between the Indigenous ways of being in the world and the rest of western civilization. First we become fully accountable for the blood that was shed on this continent by immigrants (knowingly or unknowingly). Healing the bloody root that is still caught underground. And then we need to begin to listen to those who are still in direct relationship with the earth…If there was ever a time for humans to surrender one perspective for another it is now. We need to reject the values of patriarchy – domination, war, hatred, and division – and make a shift to what Carol Christ calls an egalitarian matriarchy – a communal way of living that values relationships and compassion and thrives upon equality between the sexes – one that also celebrates diversity. Turning to Nature and Indigenous peoples to learn how to make this shift is a road to genuine hope…
All summer I have been engaged with mushrooming in the forest, a practice that has deepened my relationship with the forest as a whole as well as making it even more real to me that I am walking on hallowed ground with Forest Scientist Suzanne Simard, who also learned about (symbiotic) mycorrhizal networks by examining mushrooms. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of some of the millions of gold, silver, red and orange threads that lie just beneath the forest floor. Thanks to the work of this feminist, (the word is never used in her book Finding the Mother Tree…) Suzanne is a prime example of a woman who has lived her life as a radical feminist who is indebted to her male relatives and does not find men a threat.
Suzanne grew up in old growth forest (fir, hemlock, cedar) as the daughter of a logging family, feeling that she was a part of a great web of interconnection. She says the trees were in her DNA and of course, we know today that they were (each of us shares about 53 percent of our DNA with trees). She experienced the forest as an organism that was WHOLE. The men in her family logged old growth forest in BC sustainably, “never taking more than they needed” and the very dangerous work of logging was all done by hand.
Suzanne was the first woman to enter the field of Forestry as a young undergraduate in the late seventies where she discovered to her dismay that everything she was learning was increasingly focused on separating the parts of the forest from the whole. She believed that clear cutting whole mountains and replanting ‘plantations’ composed of one species of fir was detrimental to the trees, inviting insect infestation while destroying the underground mycelial networks that she intuited connected all the trees and plants of the forest in a ‘wood wide web’. She sensed that entire forests were communicating not just above ground (they also communicate threats of insects invasion and other information by way of air) but underground through thousands and thousands of miles of mycorrhizal nets composed of roots and fungus. She believed that when these root and fungal nets were destroyed during logging, new seedlings had difficulty generating. She also sensed that separating one tree species from another would have negative long – term consequences for clear cutting and plantations alike. Suzanne was sure that protecting islands of old trees their offspring and other species helped maintain wildlife biodiversity and provided networks for recovery from deforestation after logging. In time she proved all the above ideas to be true.
After Suzanne’s values collided with those of the forest service and funding dried up she left the forest industry. When she obtained her PhD. Suzanne became a Forest scientist/ecologist. In her first field experiment she proved that fir and birch exchanged carbon through underground mycorrhizal networks and that these two species cooperated with each other supporting and enhancing the growth and health of both (birch also protected fir from devastating root disease). Through extensive research over a period of thirty plus years she demonstrated how trees communicated and exchanged carbon and other nutrients, nourished and favored their kin but also helped their neighbors, and when dying offered precious carbon and other elements to the forests they left behind.
Initially, she hoped that this research would demonstrate that forests behaved like one interconnected balanced organism, with each tree and plant necessary to the other. And that this new understanding would help change existing destructive forestry practices. Sadly, after thirty plus years, and hundreds of field experiments by Suzanne and her graduate students that continued to prove her theses, not one forestry practice has changed. In Canada 80 percent of the forests continue to be clear-cut. In the US where we have fewer trees 40 percent are still strip logged. In both countries enormous amounts of carbon are being released into the atmosphere as a result.
Today, Suzanne, who has closed an ancient circle when she discovered that her values mirrored those who lived on this continent for millennia, is working directly with Indigenous Peoples. She has begun an ambitious one hundred year research program called “The Mother Tree Project” which is designed around learning how to assist trees during climate change. Many trees throughout the country are already sick and some are dying. As the climate continues to warm some new species will replace those that cannot adapt fast enough, and thanks to Suzanne’s research we already know that trees will pass on nutrients to new species giving them the necessary carbon etc. they need to survive. This program is open to existing and future graduate students, citizen scientists and anyone who is interested in participating. Central to the program are the values of relationship and partnership, which we desperately need to embrace if the human species is to survive…
Regardless of outcome, Suzanne has created a bridge into the future with her groundbreaking work that I hope will reach the ears of people soon enough to make a difference.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.