The crisp morning air of the world enshrouded by a brilliant hum of life begins to stir as the sun rises. Early rays of light illuminating the tops and reaching fingers of the towering trees, not yet breaking through their fruitful heads of leaves to reach the ground below. Glancing upward, I see birds soaring above the tree line as I catch glimpses of them between the few openings that give way to the sky above. From my stable resting place near the sodden ground, still damp with morning dew, I stare at the bases of mighty oaks and elms sprouting from the nourishing earth, soaking up the remaining moisture and passively absorbing the glowing beams that reach them. As wind rushes through the forest, sweeping the scent of debris and carrying the perfume of flowers blooming just out of sight it seems that the entire world takes sigh of relaxation. Out of sight but never out of reach from the network connecting each member of the community.
Feeling a surge of energy rushing beneath the outstretch of mycelium, stretching tendrils that grasp for connection far beneath the chilled dirt masking the sparks of connectivity and community just beneath its surface. Feeling the rush of nutrients flowing from tree root through the interwoven mycelium connected to my base as it surges on the next web of connectors, allowing myself to soak up just a bit of the nutrients as they pass by me. The sparks of life flow from my sub-terra stem to the end of the fine scales still sprouted along my cap, prominent and indicative of my youth. As the sun rises just a bit higher the long stretching shadows that previously enveloped the springing life of the ecosystem retreat closer to their source and washes the woods in warmth.
With the peaking rays of light kissing segments of the spongy terrain, cries for help and pangs of hunger blink their way from the far-reaching ends of our home to call out for aid. A young sapling, recently having taken root at the base of an ancient black birth tree whose sturdy branches and full tufts of leaves blocks all moisture and light from reaching the struggling seedling. Like a hungry child calling for their guardian, its cries spread throughout the underground grid, coursing its way through the veins of the interwoven body of nature. As its wails echo through the heart of the forest, a rush of nutrients course toward the aching roots as every guardian and protector of life reaches out a helping hand.
As the evening chill sets in, the chirping swallows quiet their song and desperate squirrels take the final moments of daylight to grasp any remaining forage to store as the cold season approaches. Warm fall sunset shifts into the crisp, encroaching darkness as the once vocal and lively hub falls into a whisper. While the stray crunching of leaves can be heard as predators stalk through the foliage hunting under the shadows, and the occasional hooting of a barn owl echoes from afar, I allow myself to bask in the cool gusts of wind that picks up pockets of fallen leaves and carries them away.
Basking in the subtle warmth of the autumn afternoon, eating away at the rotting tree root and foliage that has become my station of inhabitancy I sit in observation of the life swirling around me. The dead, decaying matter breaks down and I soak up the flow of nutrients feeling the bits of vitality. We serve as the facilitators of life and death in our ecosystem, my brethren and I take up host on dying lifeforms as we create a stationary network that enables the flow of life and energy through the woods. Over the past month, the eco-system around me has provided plentiful amounts of food for our community as supplements flow from organism to organism through the mycelial mat. My once young and immature scales have smoothed out to create a bald cap that gleams bright white in contrast to the brown and orange floor, coated in fall colors.
The loud crunch of leaves grows steadily grow louder as rapid and excited footsteps scramble through the woods. In their wake, leaving flowers trodden and the nearby fauna fleeing for a burrow or nook to hide in while the chaos stumbles by. Humans break through the thick overgrowth that sheltered us from the pathway they normally walkthrough. For some reason, the blistering heat of the summer and the cooling breeze of fall leads to the most activity from these troops that deploy in search of life and anything that catches their eye. They go around picking any brightly colored or ornate flowers that stand out against the vivid green grass and are managing to still be in bloom this close to winter or the humans pursue family of deer with scopes and something that causes explosions to shatter the calm of the forest.
Some of them wonders aimlessly, leaving the flora and fauna of our family alone as if part of the protective body or perhaps a polite visitor while others leave disaster and ruin in the wake of their footprints. Stealing away our food, destroying our homes, and unwittingly causing damage that will continue to scar our forest for hundreds of years as they leave tough and undigestible scraps that litter our home. Trash that may be carried away with the wind for an unknowing sparrow to assume a meal that unfortunately leads to sickness and death. They carve names into the basis of mighty tree trunks that will scar the aged body for its lifetime. No amount of help messages or re-routing of nutrients can repair the wound that they have caused.
As the footsteps bound closer, anxiety grips me, and fear spreads from root to cap. They are attracted to things that stand out and at this stage in my growth, I fear what will befall me. I’m taken back to June when the Chicken of the Woods that had taken up perch on a dying oak tree, barely visible from my vantage point as just the tips of the brilliantly orange and yellow shelf mushroom poke their noses from around the bend of the tree, was destroyed. At the time, I had no idea what humans were capable of, I assumed that, like all of the other animals I had observed, the served an important function for our ecosystem and were voyeurs of the life that sprung up at every corner of the forest. It wasn’t until I saw one bust through the foliage, a small chapbook in their hands, as they glance from writing in their booklet to the resting fungus. They stood there for a long time, switching between multi-colored utensils and glancing up at the mushroom. The next moment passed by slowly and would haunt me for weeks to come, every time the fumbling footsteps of a human break their way through the calm day, with it brings distinct memories of loss and the reality of what they do. I watched in horror as a shining silver object was taken from their pocket and in its final moments, shocks of alarm were sent out through my neighbor’s mycelium as the bursts connect with the grasping web of my own. I watch as the brightly colored fungus drops with a deafening thud into the hand of the human. Smiling at their find, they walk away, fading into obscurity as the distance grows greater.
I know that what drew their attention was the alarmingly bright colors of the mushroom and as the sunlight continues to break through the branches and illuminates the contrasting white, my anxiety heightens. The figure of two humans grows clearer and clearer as they approach the tree root, I have come to call home. Their hands interweaved in a confusing display that I was not familiar with as their booming voices crackle like lighting, slicing through the gentle sounds of billowing leaves and muted tweets of robins. As they draw closer, one of them begins to make noises that I had come to know as their expressions of happiness, it was easy to identify after hearing excited calls of small humans as they run to meet older ones, showing them the bounty of life they had collected from the forest floor. Proudly displaying their uprooted wildflowers and wriggling worms that had become discombobulated in their upheaval.
The shorter of the two breaks away from the other’s grasp and runs over to where I rest as I come to accept the reality of the situation and realize what is sure to follow. Their partner closes in on me as the other kneels down, unknowingly crushing a small ant hill beneath their kneecap, blissfully unaware of the now collapsing tunnels that lie just out of sight. They both observe for a moment looking over every minute detail as the larger runs their palm over my head, poking invasive fingers at the craters that had begun to form this late in the season. The next few moments seem to rush by as they both reach into their pockets and as a glimpse of a silver and shimmering item makes itself visible, I await execution. The moment never comes through.
A strange clicking noise emerges from the small silver objects in their hands as they rest their hands on my head, their grasping palms dwarfed by my size. I begin to relax, as they have yet to make violent contact and seem to be observers, albeit a bit touchy, but merely examining me and the other inhabitants. As the large human places both hands near my stem, there is only a moment of realization before a twist and resounding snap that echoes to my neighbors and marks my beheadal.