The single most important book I’ve read this year is Bright Green Lies, by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert. I would recommend reading it in conjunction with All We Can Save in order to keep breathing, and when it becomes unbearable, to skip ahead to the end of the book, where solutions such as reforestation and soil restoration are addressed.
I have been bashed at work for recommending it—people who believe technology will save us from consequences become predictably angry when their religion is challenged—but I will say that I know enough about cherrypicked data, misleading statistics, and Jevon’s Paradox to be fairly convinced that what the book describes is true.Wind power requires deforestation, herbicides, petroleum-based lubricants, and tremendous amounts of steel, which itself requires iron mines, the largest of which is located in the Amazon rainforest. The construction of wind farms off the Atlantic coast threatens the last 300 right whales; a wind farm in Scotland threatens Scotland’s last 30 wildcats. Solar panels are a mining and recycling nightmare with a lifespan of 25 years, but the people and land being destroyed are in India, China, and sub-Saharan Africa, so they don’t matter to most Americans. Even without considering the high and permanent costs of each, neither technology is capable of meeting the world’s energy needs, but as long as we choose not to see that, they will make energy companies plenty of money in the form of government subsidies. Meanwhile, Germany’s vaunted transformation to renewable energy came about because chopping down American forests, shipping them across the Atlantic, and burning the wood in pellet form in Germany is considered “renewable” and zero-carbon thanks to sleight-of-hand accounting.
What is a better way forward? Love a place near you, the authors say: a forest, a prairie, a saltmarsh, an ocean. Love it enough to protect, defend, and restore it. Love the species that live there. Elsewhere, Keith writes: “If we could repair seventy-five percent of the world’s grasslands—destroyed by the war of agriculture—in under fifteen years, the grasses would sequester all the carbon that’s been released since the beginning of the industrial age.”
I think it is not easy to love someone when you don’t know their name, or if you haven’t met. A few introductions may be in order.
The Douglas fir cone has distinctive toothed scales. Different indigenous legends describe the Douglas fir as offering mice either shelter from a wildfire or its seeds in a famine, which is why we can see their little hindparts sticking out of the fir cone still.
Leave a Douglas fir cone lying in the forest, and out of it will grow a tiny white mushroom of extraordinary delicacy: Strobilarius trullisatus, its stem a millimeter wide. I have seen it so often in the woods that I was surprised to discover that I don’t have a photo of one. As I looked around today, in hopes of remedying the omission, I noticed that none of the Douglas fir cones I saw in suburban parks rather than forest flew the little white flag of Strobilarius.
Tiny as Strobilarius is, there is smaller. A much more experienced mycologist once told me offhand, “If you stick your head in a lady fern you’ll find Mycena pterigena. The cap’s about a millimeter wide and it’s hot pink.”
“What?” I said. I knew lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) well, because they’re one of the few edible fiddleheads, but I had never seen tiny hot-pink mushrooms on them.
“Yeah, any lady fern. Go look. You’ll find one.”
Some time later, walking in the forest that I love, I saw a lady fern and stuck my head in. And I found Mycena pterigena.
There are many quiet little marriages of life and life like this. According to Michael Luo’s Mycenae dichotomous key, there is a Mycena specific to walnut and hazelnut shells (M. luteopallens), a Mycena specific to rhododendrons in the Appalachians (M. carolinensis), a Mycena that prefers elm and ash leaves in the eastern US and alder in the west (M. roseipallens). M. filiformis grows on beech leaves, M. madronicola on madrone bark, M. corticalis on western redcedar. I hope to see each one of these someday.
One looks, one pays attention, one falls in love. I was not in the forest much this autumn, because we had no autumn; there was instead a long drought, two weeks of rain, then frost. But once when I was, I found a new patch of English ivy matting the ground and twining up the trunks of several western redcedars. English ivy is invasive and parasitic. I went home and called the phone number for that forest, over and over. The phone rang and rang endlessly without anyone picking up—not even a machine.
No plant is moral or immoral in itself. In October I had noted honeybees flocking to the Sputnik-like flowers of English ivy beside the road and felt a bit friendlier toward the ivy for being a late-season source of food. Still, this forest was not the place for it.
That I was not able to obtain permission gave me pause.But when I returned last week, the keepers were nowhere to be found, and the ivy had spread since I last visited.
I peeled the pale fringe of suckers out of the crevices in the redcedar bark, yanked on the ivy until it rose in knotted cords from the ground, shook the dirt off the roots, and disposed of it. I tore out another armful. A dog-walker asked if I was making a wreath.
“Oh no,” I said. “This stuff is invasive.”
I should have said: You love your dog, so you take good care of it. I love this forest…
I had been ill, which my body reminded me of, and I could not clear the remaining ivy. But I left a note on the windshield of one of the keeper’s trucks with a hand-drawn map and an explanation in abominable handwriting.
One starts somewhere, somehow, seed on a scale in a cone. Under the banner of the lady fern, against our impossible odds, I have set the spear of Mycena pterigena—tiny, fragile, of no conceivable use.
But because I love it, you know it too.
The book’s cited sources include the far left, research sponsored by the fossil fuel industry, more boring sources, and everything in between.
I know something now of what Bluebeard’s wife felt: the room was always there, but as long as the door was shut, you could pretend nothing was wrong. And then there’s blood on the key and you can’t pretend any longer.
From a recent article in the Washington Post rather than Jensen.
It’s been a bad season for mushrooms, though, so I can’t conclude anything. Photos are from past years.
I give in delight to you what has been given in delight to me, hoping that it will lead you into the natural world and its tactile and many-named splendors, rather than becoming a pale and tasteless commodity on social media.
Which seems appropriate for anyone placing a phone call to a forest.
Relatedly, there was a beautiful article in the Seattle Times in November about local volunteer Doug Adams, who saws ivy off of park trees—sometimes without permission.