COLUMN: Why do we opt to ignore the wisdom of the earth?

I chose to spend some time with a mushroom.

I was walking through one of the forests in Simcoe County on a chill autumn day recently. The sun had now begun to penetrate the thinned canopy as once well-conditioned leaves fell lifelessly at my feet minimizing the shade.

I marvelled at how nature was redecorating the forest floor by installing its fall colours. All manner of yellow, orange, and red tints replaced the lush green of summer. I have experienced these changes many times over during my lifetime, yet I am still in awe of the splendour that nature beholds to us.

The trees seemed to bow and say hello as I passed before them. They, along with the plants, have been here longer than I have. They had seen much before ever seeing me.

So have the mushrooms. And one caught my eye. The mushroom was wide brimmed with a rose-coloured top. It seemed to call to me as if wanting to engage in conversation. I was compelled to oblige their request.

I’m no stranger to this understanding. My grandfather spoke of it. The plants, trees, birds, animals, will speak to us if we allow ourselves into their realm. They could tell you about their world if you cared to ask them. But society has chosen to misplace the notion that these magnificent beings are beings of spirit as much as we are of beings of spirit.

The thought that trees, plants, wild animals, carry spirit is contained in Anishinaabemowin (Ah-nish-in-awe-beh-moh-win) the Ojibwe Language. When I say tree, I say, “Mitig.” When I pluralize that word, it becomes Mitigoog (Mih-tih-goag), and by virtue of having a suffix ending in G (Hard G only. G is never soft in Ojibwe), means that the thing (noun) that I am speaking of is a living thing.

Just like you and I, it has a spirit contained within its physical shell. Through my teachings from the old ones, my elders, I have learned that these spiritual beings have chosen to exist in as a stationary life form within our physical realm. And that these sentient beings communicate with one another.

So, I joined this soft skinned mushroom with the large rose-coloured cap, and I laid down beside them and they began to tell me the secrets of the forest.

I learned that they had been here well before humans. Even well before the Anishinaabeg (Ah-nish-in-awe-begh). They were grateful for the relationship that they once enjoyed with my ancestors because we, too, were spiritual beings who honoured that spiritual connection to everything around us.

They observed us in ceremony as we gave thanks for what the creator had placed upon the earth to assist in our survival. They watched as those ceremonies were taken away by the larger society and hidden away deep in forests like this to be preserved for future generations. They wish for us to find our way back to that sacred chasm filled with the spiritual way of knowing and understanding of our connectedness to one another.

Our ancestors once had a pact with their kind. We agreed to look after one another. That relationship was healthy and was held together by spiritual wampum of truth.

That is where we must turn once more, they told me. More than ever, we must work together to restore balance within the forest. Birds that once flew here helping to distribute the seeds of certain plants and trees have become extinct. Their migratory paths disappeared in the wind. As a result, so did the plants and trees that they once helped to seed all along their route on the back of Turtle Island.

Mushrooms absorb everything from their environment. Including information. And when the land was healthier than it is today, they were much more willing to be a part of nature’s bounty. In a healthy environment, mushrooms grow undisturbed. Usually until trampled underfoot by humans.

If you’ve ever observed mushrooms in the forest, they will not ever be trampled by their brethren, the animals of the forest. But now, even the edible mushroom must choose to defend themselves from humans and so they hide away for fear of being trampled or worse, having their habitat scraped away by heavy machinery and replaced by a layer of dull grey, cold concrete.

In the forest, every day one can reap a bountiful harvest. Everyday can be Thanksgiving. So, I listened. I learned from this mushroom. I left with a pact to educate other humans. I left with a promise of renewing our bond of brotherhood. An ancient pact that was once shared by each of our ancestors.

They remember that we are the same as them. We like to think we are greater than them but we are not. We are them.

They remember. We should listen.

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