The Fungal Internet Up In Here

February 6, 2018

 

 

 

 

I woke up to my very pregnant wife, Alessa, shaking me at 2:30AM. 

 

“It smells like smoke Byron….I think there might be a fire.” We stumbled to the living room window and up on the other side of the hill to our home, we could see flames viciously wicking the ridge line. We looked at one another, and started moving like tasmanian devils around the house…... packing photos, dog beds, hard drives, clothes, jewelry and other random things. 

 

By the time we were evacuated at 7:30AM and on the road in miles of cars moving 5MPH my phone started exploding. I was getting calls from every rancher and dairyman I know asking if we were okay, if our animals were safe and if we needed help evacuating them. It was an amazing display of human kindness, concern and care. Every part of our community reached out to see how they could help. As we caravanned down the road with our few belongings in tow, we felt blessed to have so many people willing to help. 

 

By 12:00 pm the next day it became clear that one of our ranches didn’t make it, and the home of one of our co-founders, Nate Chisholm, burned to the ground with all his family’s possessions. An iron cook pot and dinner bell were all that were left of the photos, memories and family records that made up the pile of ash, where so many sweet memories of family once stood. Right away we put up a crowd-sourced fundraiser for Nate, Hanna and Abel. Within four days people inside and out of our community funded the full ask, and Nate and family were able to replace the replaceable items. 

 

The only way to describe this was astounding. So many people rushing in to help. A vast network of people getting resources to where their community needs it most. Being that we manage ecology, it brought up so many comparisons in my mind about the biosphere we try and “manage.” I’ve read studies about this. There are vast forest networks that trade nutrients through highways of fungi, called mycorrhizae. At times, if a tree needs more help because it is short on resources this “fungal internet” provides a way for trees to channel resources from the the trees that have them to the trees that don’t. 

 

It was a strange reflection that our “internet” in a certain way was acting like this “fungal internet.” That somehow the combination of people and technology resembled the goings on beneath the forest floor and the the results of this strange analog were the same. The more I thought about it, the more and more comparisons came to mind. After we were able to raise the money for Nate’s family we realized that people were just looking for ways to help. We used this same combination of people willing to help and the internet to raise resources to be able to donate a full cow to fire survivor’s families. It took us four days to raise enough money to complete a matching grant we put up for families in need. Soon Nate and I were standing face to face with fire survivors who lost it all handing them boxes of beef while they recounted some of their stories. We fought back the tears for the most part….these people were inspiring. 

 

A little under a month ago, we welcomed our little daughter Emma into this world, crying and screaming and filled with love…and poop. A lot of poop. Those of you who are parents know it is one of the most amazing and world changing events you can experience up to that point in your life. As our eyes became bleary and the laundry piled up along with the dishes we were overrun with love from our community coming into help. Our parents set us up a meal train, which once again harnessed the power of internet much to our pleasant surprise. This set into motion a steady onslaught of dozens of folks inundating our fridge with food, our kitchen with cleaning and our family with snuggles.  

 

 Once again community, people who care, using tools of connection that mimic vast underground networks of biology to help others in need. While mycologists talk about the network as mycorrhizae, the primatologists and behavioral ecologists, call this behavior reciprocal altruism. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Or more specifically, you groom these lice off my chimpanzee back and I will also eat your lice as well. It is true that there are technical evolutionary reasons and biological adaptations for this behavior. However so much of what it boils down to, when we hear a knock on the door, see smiling eyes and arms filled with steaming crocks of goodies, is that people are good. Given the chance and the medium, people want to help...it’s in our DNA and in our hearts and it is beautiful. 

 

These last three months have been nothing short of inspiring and deeply contemplative. And that is reassuring, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is cray cray out there. There are so many concerning things to focus on. What brings me hope for our daughter and her future is how most folks are wired to care, help and show up. So when I imagine our daughter’s future, and I think about the big life changing events she will go through I find comfort in knowing that people will be there for her, because that is what people do. 

 

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