The afternoon’s torpid heat swirls and settles, warms pine needles into sweet release. Resinous speech exchanged between trees, percolates in my lungs–becomes me. Their woody elevation and verdant emanations muffles sound, enfolds the forest in cool shadow and dank hum. A jubilant environment for fruiting bodies to spring forth from underground obscurity. A fibrous weft of mycelial collaboration where hyphae tendrils pulse sugar and nutrients and lifeforce. A collaboration as old as the evolutionary migration of plants from water onto land. Timelines overlap and coalesce and spill through.
I want to be less this I–this lonely upright thing of apparent solidity–and more belly-on-earth prostrate. To infect this body with soil stories, of microbe and decay and nutrient. To feel myself shatter brilliantly and become willow foliage, their dance felt in my fingers–where bone is suspended between synovial brine and all is made of movement.
To un-know myself into the chaos.
I roll in the magnificent, harrowing muck of it all. I dissolve and am absorbed into the tumult. My breath becomes a million particles written into the wind’s stories, chest a cavern of ravens, hair of shaggy seaweed. I let ivy and bramble replace me.
I am trillions of nerve endings that map me into the web of life; a sensing and sensed body amongst others. We are not beings that end at skin or me and mine. We are porous stories of interspecies collaboration–bacterial cultures happening and decaying in erotic dialogue with airborne spores and microbes that take up residence in our guts and orifices, upon our skin. An incomplete body-ecosystem-becoming.
I apprentice myself to geologic time, to the seed in darkness of humus; silent and unrevealing, to soil lain fallow, to inscrutable mush within cocoon. I drink the green liquid dream of trees; diaphanous sky seeps through me. I belong my bones to granite, my blood to sap of birch, to the desire of rivers. For where does one form end and another begin? We are always decomposing, sloughing, combusting, renewing, burgeoning. A rambling, burbling assemblage of lifeforms in a body-chorus holobiont.
We are hefted creatures. Gravity-wedded. Not made for shooting off to Mars and beyond. Our messy, culpable entanglement within the web of life is here. In the thick now. In the squirming lifeforce of a worm upon my palm. In opposable thumbs that perform the ancient gesture of seed into soil. In the mycelium underfoot that registers the heft of my gait.
What would it mean to entangle my nervous system with the temporality of trees, with lithic resonance, or the plurality of mycorrhizal networks? To rupture the anthropocentric monologue into tentacular multiplicity, to inoculate a density of interspecies tales. The contingencies of vulnerability that make and unmake us. Where individual elements do not pre-exist, but are materialised in what physicist Karen Barad terms “intra-action” (as opposed to inter-action). The neatly bounded individual is queered into porous phenomena, into a confluence of mutually constituted and entangled agencies.
What are the new-old stories waiting to be told from the rubble of the dominant culture? Unruly and brimming from that interstitial place of generative emergence–between beings and species and disciplines. Surging and erupting and interrupting stories of self-made heroes and empire, wrapped in the sterile fiction of individuality. A monomyth threatened by its lack of diversity.
We are beings relationally constellated at the intersection of myriad lifeforms. It was the symbiosis formed between retroviruses and early mammals 160 million years ago that enabled the evolution of the placenta. The fusion of mitochondria and ancient prokaryotes created the cells that make up our bodies. Our gut microbiota vastly outnumber our human genes and orchestrate the digestion of food and the shaping of our behaviours and emotions. We are less protagonists and more threads being woven within a web that we cannot perceive in its entirety.
The human story is but one amongst a multitude of voices and howls and wingbeats. Like the diffuse consciousness of mycelial networks, that exists everywhere and nowhere in particular–our story is but a brief wink in deep time, one pulsing nerve site within a densely storied terrain. How can we widen our witnessing towards stories undulating with vivacity and interspecies polyphony–stories with claw and tendril and spore?
There is a certain erosion of hubris required here. To decentre the singular, linear human narrative and fertilise a syntax of plurality, of listening beyond ourselves. To understand that worlding processes involve a collaborative dynamic of sympoiesis, a term coined by scholar Donna Haraway. As she writes in Staying with the Trouble: ‘Nothing makes itself…Sympoiesis is a word proper to complex, dynamic, responsive, situated, historical systems. It is a word for worlding-with, in company.’ We are less entities and more incomplete, porous, fluid assemblages amongst a maelstrom of becomings. Less noun and more verb. Rhizomatic. We act within and are acted upon by the world. To be in relationship is vulnerable, at times risky and always culpable.
To be a creature of this world is to be unfinished.
to the teeming microbial underworld beneath your bipedal verticality. Healthy soil needs a biome infested with a rhapsody of funghi and microbes, thick with diverse lifeforms–the mess from which things sprout.
To be as tannic humus in dark ferment.
Compost as old as the earth. Compost hot with rot, thick with what is true, what is nourishment. That holds roots in death, in fertile decay, in carcass and rind and eggshell and bone. Where earthworms undulate and translate soil through their bodies.
And further down.
Into deep worlds of bacteria and archaea found in the earth’s mantle that contain hundreds of times more carbon than what is above ground. The unknowable opacity.
To fold into mineral time/lessness, of stardust ash and iron oxide that will outlast these edible bodies.
Kimberley Carter lives on Ngun(n)awal and Ngambri country. She is curious about what stories are dreamed from the underplaces—of bone and root and scat. Her work will be forthcoming in Folklore for Resistance. Dirt Remembers is her first published essay.