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Mychorizza in the Mountains

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

Coming out of the North Cascades from a first backpacking trip, abundant with fresh conversation and the gentle activation of neural networks long dormant, it only seemed fitting to continue the process of supported reunions by accepting an invitation from Joao Vilca Soto. Founder of Ruta Verde Sustainability Nonprofit and friend in service, Joao invited me to volunteer with his organization in their sponsorship of the first annual Myceliate the Festival, presented by Cognitive Function.

The festival promised the cultivation of collective abundance through the gaining of new skills and knowledge related to fungi and permaculture, whilst in community. The venue, on the slopes of Mount Tahoma* over a mid-August weekend, provided a balmy, wooded, PNW wonderland. And the volunteer role with Ruta Verde prompted the exploration of shared values and practices that remind us of the future we deeply desire.

Upon arrival at Mycelliate the Festival, one could easily sense the abundance of knowledge present. While the schedule promised sessions ranging in soil microbiology to the use of VR technology in permadesign, the main field itself was dotted with tents and tables offering an array of carefully crafted products meant to be ingested. Both vendors and sponsors could speak to the nutritional and medicinal qualities of mushrooms, and as I pinged from table to table, sensorially engaged with my own gut-mind connection, I found myself feeling at once embodied and expansive from the experience of relating with the fungi and their stewards.

What was so exciting about volunteering with Ruta Verde specifically, was the way its mission and presence emphasized this essential quality of mycelium as a facilitator, connector, and network not just for humans, but for forests. Given that Ruta Verde is currently leading reforestation efforts in Chelan, WA, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the role fungi plays in, quite literally, “The Social Life of Forests”, as outlined in the New York Times Magazine article by Ferris Jabr*. This article follows a scientist and her peers as they set out to research just how intricate the connections in a healthy forest are, and what they found are that mychorizzas - or thread-like fungi enveloped with tree roots - play an integral role in helping trees exchange resources and communications across species, and subsequently build resiliency.

At the Ruta Verde tent, the conversations were not about how humans can responsibly and carefully cultivate, harvest, and ingest, but rather how we can support, protect, and give back to the ecosystems that nourish us. As people brought their own curiosities about solutions to local, international, social, environmental issues, the Ruta Verde tent became a niche in the ecology of the festival that needed to be filled: A reminder that becoming better versions of ourselves includes engaging in networks of reciprocity - or mychorriza if you will - beyond our own bodies and backyards, in communities and cultures beyond our oceans, and with the ever-present, more-than-human kin we share our breath with.

After a brilliant meal and goodbye hugs, I left my day volunteering with Ruta Verde at the Mycelliate Festival feeling well fed in community, body, mind, and spirit; embodied as fauna, and reinspired to take up my role amongst the fungi and flora.

*Wilkeson, Washington is on the ancestral homelands of the Puyallup and Muckleshoot tribes

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