...if we are stronger healers than they are warriors...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

oh, fungus among us...

I am really excited about mushrooms these days.

I'm in the midst of reading MYCELLIUM RUNNING by Paul Stamets, an amazing book that shares his ideas of the four major ways that mushrooms can help save the world. I can talk about mushrooms at length, and do, at the drop of a hat. At the drop of anything, really...it doesn't just have to be a hat.

Mycellia are the organism that produce the fruiting bodies we know as mushrooms. Mycellia are made up of networks of thin, threadlike cells that grow beneath the soil and do the most incredible things, like create ecosystems.

Mycellia, along with soil microorganisms and bacteria, are responsible for breaking down all the dead and waste stuff of the planet so that everything else can use it to live and grow. Mycellia hold soils together, enrich it by breaking down matter into constituent molecules easily absorbed by other living organisms and in doing so BUILD the soil, one of my favourite things to do and something that should be a new goal for humanity, in my view.

I can go on and on about how great mushrooms and their mycellia are - it could fill several books. I don't want to write all that now, so i'm skipping to the 4 ways Paul Stamets proposes mycellia will help us save our world.

1. Mycofiltration - meaning filtering with mushrooms. By growing mycellial networks, it's been discovered that dangerous organic pollutants like fecal/agricultural runoff can be cleaned out of groundwater. The networks use the super-rich pollutants (manure runoff that gets into the ground water from feedlots, for example) to grow themselves, filtering the waste out for their own use and letting the clean water continue on.

2. Mycoreforestation - meaning growing forests with mushrooms. Amazing studies have shown that a type of mycellium known as mycorhizal fungi create networks that sustain other plant life in a very deliberate manner. The mycellium will grow right into the root systems of plants and trees, and funnel nutrients right into them! One incredible study done involved a small copse of trees where there was also a mycorhizal network present. The copse was made up of a douglas fir, a cedar and a birch tree. The experimenters wrapped the douglas fir in fabric so that it couldn't photosynthesize, and then dumped some tagged sugar into the soil so that they could track it. The study found that the mycellium fed the doug fir that couldn't photosynthesize more of the tagged sugars than to the birch or the cedar - taking care of the tree in distress.
From studies like this, it's believed that forests depend on mycellial networks to grow and flourish, to help regulate growth and distribution of nutrients, and that promoting the growth of fungi is what's been missing in our present reforestation projects.

3. Mycomedicinals - meaning medicine from mushrooms. Many, many mushrooms produce all sorts of enzymes, chemicals, antibiotics and antibacterials that have been found to be helpful to humankind. Research has been done into treating cancer, smallpox, anthrax, flu and AIDS with medicinal compounds sourced from mushrooms, but very little is known. Many cultures have used mushrooms medicinally for thousands of years, but science hasn't quite caught up. We could have a medicine chest growing under our feet and in the woods all around us, in danger from deforestation and terrible logging practices, and we don't even know it.

4. Mycoremediation - meaning cleaning up pollutants with mushrooms. Similar to mycofiltration, the bioremediational aspects of fungi are astounding. One study quoted in Paul Stamets' book was of a remediation study done in an old diesel refuelling lot. The soil was scooped up into four mounds, and then three of the mounds then had a remediational technique applied to it, keeping the fourth as a control. The mound inoculated with mycellia underwent profound changes and a staggering drop in the percentage of pollutants found within eight weeks, while the mounds that had been treated with bacteria and chemical enzymes were still as stinky and polluted as the control mound.

It boggles me to think about the huge implications mycellia could have. We could heal our cities and polluted areas and ourselves, regrow healthy forest ecosystems...it makes me crazy-excited! So...coming in the mail in a week or two will be the spawn of our own mycellial networks, for our gardens. We're revamping our gardening techniques to include these new fungal allies - i've been looking into no-till gardening techniques. I'll report all kinds of stuff on all this later. Hooray mushrooms!!!

mushroom pics by Ken Blackwell, Malcolm Storey and Dave Hughes, all found on the internet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An open letter to the Prime Minister - a call to arts not arms

Hey all - This is an amazing letter from the playwright Wadji Mouawad, who works in Ottawa at the National Arts Center. I'm posting it because even tho i'm moving a little bit away from the arts world while i'm in school, i still care and am deeply affected by the heinous things the Harper govt. is doing to arts funding in Canada. The arts have as much an effect on living in sustainable ways as eating organic food, not driving cars and composting. They work in the dimension of the unconcious and the imagination, the underlayers of our cultures and are therefore part of the soil in which we are all planted. ART KEEPS US HEALTHY.

This letter is a beautifully wrought call to arms, or call to ARTS more like it, for the arts community, which surprise surprise, turns out to be everybody!

It was published in the Devoir, in Montreal, last week, and translated into english by John Van Burek.

An open letter to Prime Minister Harper:

Monsieur le premier ministre,

We are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. You are Prime Minister of the Parliament of Canada and I, across the way, am a writer, theatre director and Artistic Director of the French Theatre at the National Arts Centre (NAC). So, like you, I am an employee of the state, working for the Federal Government; in other words, we are colleagues.

Let me take advantage of this unique position, as one functionary to another, to chat with you about the elimination of some federal grants in the field of culture, something that your government recently undertook. Indeed, having followed this matter closely, I have arrived at a few conclusions that I would like to publicly share with you since, as I’m sure you will agree, this debate has become one of public interest.

The Symbolism

Firstly, it seems that you might benefit by surrounding yourself with counsellors who will be attentive to the symbolic aspects of your Government’s actions. I am sure you know this but there is no harm in reminding ourselves that every public action denotes not only what it is but what it symbolises.
For example, a Prime Minister who chooses not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, claiming his schedule does not permit it, in no way reduces the symbolism which says that his absence might signify something else. This might signify that he wishes to denote that Canada supports the claims of Tibet. Or it might serve as a sign of protest over the way in which Beijing deals with human rights. If the Prime Minister insists that his absence is really just a matter of timing, whether he likes it or not, this will take on symbolic meaning that commits the entire country. The symbolism of a public gesture will always outweigh the technical explanations.

Declaration of war

Last week, your government reaffirmed its manner of governing unilaterally, this time on a domestic issue, in bringing about reductions in granting programs destined for the cultural sector. A mere matter of budgeting, you say, but one which sends shock waves throughout the cultural milieu –rightly or wrongly, as we shall see- for being seen as an expression of your contempt for that sector. The confusion with which your Ministers tried to justify those reductions and their refusal to make public the reports on the eliminated programs, only served to confirm the symbolic significance of that contempt. You have just declared war on the artists.
Now, as one functionary to another, this is the second thing that I wanted to tell you: no government, in showing contempt for artists, has ever been able to survive. Not one. One can, of course, ignore them, corrupt them, seduce them, buy them, censor them, kill them, send them to camps, spy on them, but hold them in contempt, no. That is akin to rupturing the strange pact, made millennia ago, between art and politics.


Art and politics both hate and envy one another; since time immemorial, they detest each other and they are mutually attracted, and it’s through this dynamic that many a political idea has been born; it is in this dynamic that sometimes, great works of art see the light of day. Your cultural politics, it must be said, provoke only a profound consternation. Neither hate nor detestation, not envy nor attraction, nothing but numbness before the oppressive vacuum that drives your policies.

This vacuum which lies between you and the artists of Canada, from a symbolic point of view, signifies that your government, for however long it lasts, will not witness either the birth of a political idea or a masterwork, so firm is your apparent belief in the unworthiness of that for which you show contempt. Contempt is a subterranean sentiment, being a mix of unassimilated jealousy and fear towards that which we despise. Such governments have existed, but not lasted because even the most detestable of governments cannot endure if it hasn’t the courage to affirm what it actually is.

Why is this ?

What are the reasons behind these reductions, which are cut from the same cloth as those made last year on the majority of Canadian embassies, who saw their cultural programming reduced, if not eliminated? The economies that you have made are ridiculously small and the votes you might win with them have already been won. For what reason, then, are you so bent on hurting the artists by denying them some of their tools? What are you seeking to extinguish and to gain?

Your silence and your actions make one fear the worst for, in the end, we are quite struck by the belief that this contempt, made eloquent by your budget cuts, is very real and that you feel nothing but disgust for these people, these artists, who spend their time by wasting it and in spending the good taxpayers money, he who, rather than doing uplifting work, can only toil.

And yet, I still cannot fathom your reasoning. Plenty of politicians, for the past fifty years, have done all they could to depoliticise art, to strip it of its symbolic import. They try the impossible, to untie that knot which binds art to politics. And they almost succeed! Whereas you, in the space of one week, have undone this work of chloroforming, by awakening the cultural milieu, Francophone and Anglophone, and from coast to coast. Even if politically speaking they are marginal and negligible, one must never underestimate intellectuals, never underestimate artists; don’t underestimate their ability to do you harm.

A grain of sand is all-powerful

I believe, my dear colleague, that you yourself have just planted the grain of sand that could derail the entire machine of your electoral campaign. Culture is, in fact, nothing but a grain of sand, but therein lays its power, in its silent front. It operates in the dark. That is its legitimate strength.

It is full of people who are incomprehensible but very adept with words. They have voices. They know how to write, to paint, to dance, to sculpt, to sing, and they won’t let up on you. Democratically speaking, they seek to annihilate your policies. They will not give up. How could they?

You must understand them: they have not had a clear and common purpose for a very long time, for such a long time that they have no common cause to defend. In one week, by not controlling the symbolic importance of your actions, you have just given them passion, anger, rage.

The resistance that will begin today, and to which my letter is added, is but a first manifestation of a movement that you yourself have set in motion: an incalculable number of texts, speeches, acts, assemblies, marches, will now be making themselves heard. They will not be exhausted.

Some of these will, perhaps, following my letter, be weakened but within each word, there will be a spark of rage, relit, and it is precisely the addition of these tiny instances of fire that will shape the grain of sand that you will never be able to shake. This will not settle down, the pressure will not be diminished.

Monsieur le premier ministre, we are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. There is nothing but the Cenotaph between our offices, and this is as it should be because politics and art have always mirrored one another, each on its own shore, each seeing itself in the other, separated by that river where life and death are weighed at every moment.

We have many things in common, but an artist, contrary to a politician, has nothing to lose, because he or she does not make laws; and if it is prime ministers who change the world, it’s the artist who will show this to the world. So do not attempt, through your policies, to blind us, Monsieur le premier ministre; do not ignore that reflection on the opposite shore, do not plunge us further into the dark. Do not diminish us.

Wajdi Mouawad

the photo was found on the internet and traced to Ursi Paltenstein

Monday, September 8, 2008

Gaviotas - oh hope!

Holy moley - folks, i've just finished an amazing book about an amazing place.
Gaviotas, a visionary community in rural Colombia survived 27 years of drug wars and western culture to continue to be an incredible inspiring hopeful potential future.

Begun in 1971 by Paolo Lugari, the village is in the middle of a inhospitable grassland savannah call the llanos. Technicians and visionaries began working in the middle of nowhere to create and build innovative 'third-world' technologies, as an alternative to importing Northern development aid. Lugari's vision was to develop methods, tools and ways of surviving in the llanos, thought to be one of the least hospitable environments to human habitation on the planet. By bringing in interested people and university students working on graduate studies, Gaviotas became an oasis of innovation and imagination. Concentrating on developing renewable technologies for resource-poor areas, technologies that would be appropriate, human-scale and ecological in 'third-world' environments, Gaviotans created incredible things - solar kettles, pumps that harnessed the energy of kids see-sawing and swinging in their school playgrounds, and incredible hydroponic gardening techniques.

In the middle of nowhere, answers to riddles we are struggling with worldwide were being developed. I read this book with my heart in my throat, fully expecting to get to the end and read about how Colombia's tumult and violence destroyed the dream of these incredible people. INCREDIBLY, that's just not the case. Gaviotas is alive and well today, and doing incredible things still.

I want the whole world to read this book. I am just so moved and heartened to see how our dreams can actually come true. I just hope we don't have to move into the middle of nowhere in Colombia to make it happen.

love the rain...