“There are one hundred people striking at the branch … to every one person that is striking at the root.”
As an author, speaker, change management consultant, and futurist, Thoreau’s quote has always resonated with me on a number of different levels.
But what if it’s not true? What if it is, rather, something I need to unlearn?
Well, it is.
There is, in fact, something deeper, larger, longer and just as critical as roots: mycelium — the vegetative part of fungus consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae.
One thousand times longer than the network of tree roots, mycelium holds together our entire ecosystem. Moreover, because our entire modern, global ecosystem is a “wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment,” our future — and the future of thousands of future generations — rests, literally, upon mycelium.
We live in a dynamic and complex system where everything is interrelated and interconnected. Mycelium sits at the foundation of this complex system. It rests at the threshold of life and death and breaks down dead plants and animals while simultaneously unlocking their nutrients. Mycelium then transfers these nutrients from the soil into the roots of plants and trees. These plants, of course, give us our food, and the trees create the air that sustains us.
Mycelium has been around for 1.3 billion — approximately 350 times longer than humans have been walking upright — and it would behoove us humans to demonstrate an ample dose of humility towards understanding the vital role it plays in sustaining our existence.
Joi Ito, the former director of the MIT Media Lab, once said, “One hundred years from now the role of science and technology will be about becoming part of Mother Nature rather than trying to control it.”
Ito is correct. Alas, humanity does not have one hundred years to learn this lesson. We need to learn it now, and we can begin by better understanding mycelium. If we do, humanity may survive and prosper long into the future.
Jack Uldrich is an author. His latest book is Business as Unusual: A Futurist’s Unorthodox, Unconventional, and Uncomfortable Guide to Doing Business(River Grove, 2020) and his most recent Medium article was “The Ecological Crisis is a Spiritual Crisis.”