You can find my good friend Javi Roger ’23 (them/them) crouching by a log in the middle of summer and whispering to flowering slender mushrooms. They love nature on a deep spiritual level and are also brilliant environmental microbiologists. In the lab, they study how host interactions shape bacterial genomes and communities (their lab has a neat comic about their bioluminescence work). As their friend, I witness how they work hard to personally process deep environmental concepts and issues.
As the two of us wander the path, we each notice precise, seemingly random features or small woodland creatures. Years of our individual attention and refuge in nature allow us to come together and notice the connections between the local biosphere. We wonder when a tree fell, how the earthworms are doing, whether there will be too much erosion.
Javi and I connect deeply with nature because of our spiritual curiosity and also because we are queer; none of us identify with the gender binary and we don’t like to be around a lot of people. Nature offers nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance for us. In natural spaces we reflect the experience of sociality using metaphors. We celebrate life growing, the flapping of wings, someone soaking up a tree. My wish is for everyone to have access to this joy.
Spending time in nature is not only beneficial to individual self-realization and mental health, but also leads to profound literature—scholarly and poetic—with subversive power. Native authors today are changing the paradigm of nature as a resource to decolonize our Cartesian worldview. Major literature that illustrates the distortion of our society’s relationship with the environment includes works by Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Joy Harjo, and Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Javi advocates using innovative scientific research to shift the cultural imagination in the name of social change. “Did you know there are intersex bears?” Javi asked me recently. They shared with me empirical research on animal sexual plasticity, an increasingly popular topic. If more people read studies like this, sexual and gender essentialism will certainly be obsolete.
My friend thinks we can learn about ourselves and our communities by making mycology readable to the public. Javi explained to me that mushrooms have thousands of sexes and mating types, unlike the male and female reproductive systems of most trees. It’s hard to categorize them, they explain. I asked them to describe how they understood the importance of mushrooms to sociality. Javi replied: “I think mushrooms and fungi are inherently understudied in large part because they’re so weird and don’t fit into categories – as a lot of people do. Many people do not fit neatly into binary categories.
Javi went on to explain that we need to understand the interdependence shown in every layer of our social communities, including local, national, online and international relationships. It is impossible to study mushrooms as a whole; they support countless other species and ecologies. Mushrooms therefore facilitate a better study of interdependence.
We must honor the history of the land and behave respectfully when we walk or work in the field in science. This may look like walking humbly on the land, donating to Gayogohó:nǫ Sovereignty and Rematriation, cleaning up trash, listening deeply to the forest, and understanding the role of the university in environmental degradation because it has destroyed far more than it supports. Exploring the natural world can lead to patterns of cooperation that have disappeared from the imagination due to colonial, greedy systems.
Javi and I are incredibly lucky to be close to nature in Ithaca. In times of climate change and environmental disasters, loving nature and studying it up close is a privilege. Climate science research must be a priority in the search for more information about the natural world and the uneven impact of climate change, nationally and internationally, must always be in our minds.
As governments seek to correct destructive practices, they must adopt an interdisciplinary approach to justice that includes understanding how environmental degradation is linked to the displacement of indigenous populations. Biodiversity is declining; we need to understand this as a matter of urgency. We must understand indigenous displacement as an urgent family issue because we are all on this Earth together.
Emma Plow is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.comGratefully takes place every second Tuesday this semester.