I often think of them as coming from another world and I’m not far wrong in thinking that. For most of their lives exist underground in the dark, secretive, cracks and crevices totally unknown to most of us. It’s only on those rare occasions, when conditions are perfectly matched to their individual specifications, that they burst forth into the world that we know and their time there and in that form is extremely brief.
In this part of the world, wandering about the woods, especially during the damper parts of the year, we are bound to come across them. Fungi, in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, pop up seemingly overnight from the forest floor, moldering leaf piles, or rotting tree stumps.
Unlike green plants, fungi do not need sunlight and are unable to make their own food, drawing nutrients instead from other rotting vegetation. What we see of them belies what we cannot see—a vast, complicated underground support system responsible for their colonization and reproduction.
In the case of a mushroom, tiny seed-like spores are carried by wind and water to the soil, where they burrow in and grow into long, multi-celled strands. Different types of these strands are produced, and the exact right ones need to meet and combine to form longer entwined strands that carry the full component of genes necessary for that specific type of mushroom.
These strands gradually form a small, tight ball of cells which grow upward and finally emerge into the air, taking on the shape of a mature mushroom. This adult fungus then forms spores and the entire cycle repeats itself.
The underground system of a fungus is truly amazing. Before logging roads cut through it, a 2,400-acre site in eastern Oregon had a contiguous growth estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old. This one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees. Mushroom-forming forest fungi such as this are unique in that their underground growth can achieve such massive proportions.
Human support systems might be compared to this. So much of what we do with and for others is not obvious; myriad small acts of assistance, kindness, and compassion combine with others, branch out and spread, often far from the original source. Surfacing and becoming apparent occasionally, this support system really is the life blood of any community. Behind every successful grown child, there are years of effort from caring adults; behind every recovering addict, there are miles of accompanying encouragement and intervention; behind every healing of a body, mind, or spirit, there are thousands of helping hands, loving hearts, and prayers.
But we are only the vessels, for beneath all this and deeper than any of us can fathom, lies a force greater than the combined efforts of all. We are each a small link in a vast system which surpasses all understanding. We need only trust and act. Yes, and celebrate the end results as they emerge out of the detritus of life. For this is the ultimate love.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity ~ Colossians 3: 12 - 14