Mushroom at the End of the World notes

P.3 the direction of the future was well known, but is it now?

P.5 there is one connection between economy and environment that seems important to introduce up front: the history of the human concentration of wealth through making both humans and nonhumans into resources for investment. This history has inspired investors to imbue both people and things with alienation, that is, the ability to stand alone, as if the entanglements of living did not matter.

In note #5, p. 290 marx used “alienation” particularly to speak of the separation of the worker from the processes and products of production, as well as other workers.

I stretch the term from this use to consider the separation of nonhumans as well as humans from their livelihood processes.

P.6 our first step is to bring back curiosity. Unencumbered by the simplifications of progress narratives, the knots and pulses of patchiness are there to explore. However much I learn, they take me by surprise.

P. 20 precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves. Unable to rely on a stable structure of community, we are thrown into shifting assemblages, which remake is as well as our others. We can't rely on the status quo; everything is in flux, including our ability to survive. Thinking through precarity changes social analysis. A precarious world is a world without teleology. Indeterminacy, the unplanned nature of time, is frightening, but thinking through precarity makes it evident that indeterminacy also makes life possible.”

P.21 this is not simple empiricism, in which the world invents its own categories. instead, agnostic about where we are going, we might look for what has been ignored because it never fit the time line of progress. *** lichen

P. 292 note #7, world making

P. 22 As these examples suggest, world making projects can overlap, allowing room for more than one species. ... pines, with their associated fungal partners, often flourish in landscapes burned by humans; pines and fungi work together to take advantage of bright open spaces and exposed mineral soils. Humans, pines, and fungi make living arrangements simultaneously for themselves and for others: multi species worlds.

Twentieth century scholarship, advancing the modern human conceit, conspired against our ability to notice the divergent, layered, and conjoined projects that make up worlds. Entranced by the expansion of certain ways of life over others, scholars ignored questions of what else was going on. As progress tales lose traction, however, it becomes possible to look differently.

P.24 I hardly know how to think about justice without progress. The problem is that progress stopped making sense. More and more of us looked up one day and realized that the emperor has no clothes. It is in this dilemma that new tools for noticing seen so important. (Note 10, p.293) Donna harroway and Marilyn strathern

P.27 How does a gathering become a happening, that is, greater than a sum of its parts? One answer is contamination. We are contaminated by our encounters; they charge who we are as we make way for others. … one value of keeping precarity in mind is that it makes us remember that changing with circumstances is the stuff of survival.

But what is survival? In popular American fantasies, survival is all about saving oneself by fighting off others. The “survival” featured in U.S television showed our alien planet stories is a synonym for conquest and expansion. I will not use the term that way. This book argues that staying alive-for every species - requires livable collaborations. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination. Without collaborations, we all die.

Popular fantasies are hardly the whole problem: one-against all survival has also engaged scholars. Scholars have imagined survival as the advancement of individual interests -whether individuals are species, populations, organisms, or genes -human or otherwise.

P.29 The problem of precarious survival helps us see what is wrong. Precarity is a state of acknowledgement of our vulnerability to others. In order to survive, we need help, and help of always the service of another, with or without intent.

*** autonomy of plants/organisms/anarchy - why I love lichens! P.40 contrast the matsutake forest: unlike sugarcane clones, matsutake make it evident that they cannot live without transformative relations with other species. Matsutake mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of an underground fungus associated with certain forest trees. The fungus gets is carbohydrates from mutualism relations with the roots of its house trees, for whom it also forages. Matsutake make it possible for just trees to live in poor soils, without fertile humus. In turn, they are nourished by the trees. This transformative mutualism has made out impossible for humans to cultivate matsutake. Japanese research institutions have thrown millions of yen into making matsutake cultivation possible, but so far without success. Matsutake resist conditions of the plantation. They require dynamic multispecies diversity of the forest-with its contaminating relationality.

P. 41 clear cutting pacific northwest forests - 1960s/1970s vs indigenous management

Paul Hirt, a conspiracy of optimism : management of the national forests since World War II.

William Robbins, landscapes of conflict: the Oregon story, 1940-2000.

P. 42 matsutake stimulated a nonscaleable forest economy in the ruins of scalesble industrial forestry.

It would be a huge mistake to assume that scalability is bad and non scalability is good. Nonscalibile projects can be as terrible in their effects as scalable ones. Unregulated loggers destroy forests more rapidly than scientific foresters. The main distinguishing feature between scalable and nonscalable projects is not ethical conduct but rather the latter are more diverse because they are not geared up for expansion. Nonscalable projects can be terrible or benign; they run the range.

P.76 this mushroomers’ freedom is irregular and outside rationalization; it is performative, communally carried, and effervescent. It has something to do with the rowdy cosmopolitanism of the place; freedom emerges from open ended cultural interplay, full of potential conflict and misunderstanding. I think it exists only in relation to ghosts. Freedom is the negotiation of ghosts on a haunted landscape; it does not exercise the haunting but works to survive and negotiate it with flair.

P.103 the American dream requires relinquishing one's old self, and perhaps this is one form of conversion.

... speech was particularly important - the speaking of the “We”. That's why my mother wouldn't let me learn Chinese. (I can relate - Italian grandparents wouldn't speak Italian on purpose) or Japanese Americans after wwii

P.104 Instead of needing interior transformation, the covers I met came under protection through endorsing freedom.

P.122 kula- Lula reminds us that things as well as people are alienated under capitalism. Kula reminds us that things as well as people are alienated under capitalism. Just as in factories workers are alienated from the things they make, allowing those things to be sold without reference to their makers, so too, things are alienated from the people who make and exchange them. Things become stand alone objects, to be used or exchanged; they beat no relation to the personal networks in which they are made and deployed. And while this situation may seem ordinary to those of us inside capitalist worlds, studying kula makes it seem strange. In kula, things and persons are formed together in gifts through which things are extensions of persons and persons are extensions of things. Kula valuables are known through the personal relations they make; people of more, in turn, are known through their kula gifts. Things, then, do not just have value in use and commodity exchange; they may have value through the social relationships and reputations of which they are a part.

Gift vs commodity economy each with a separate logic for making value.

P.123 Almost no one buys a fine matsutake just to eat. Matsutake build relationships, and as gifts they cannot be separated from these relationships. Matsutake become extensions of the person, the definitional feature of value in a gift economy.

P.124 The role of wholesalers as matchmakers. Their job is to match good with appropriate buyers, getting the best possible price through the match. One vegetable wholesaler spoke of how he goes to visit farmers to see the conditions under which they grow their crops; he wants to know just which buyers there cross will satisfy. Translation from commodity to gift is already happening in making the match.

Thinking of coffeestamp caring about coffee bean farmers - how the chain will effect coffee, caring about levels of things including “consumer” not just making money - also what makes certain matsutake stand out? Good vs bad / gift vs grocery store mushroom - the quality. So what makes artwork stand out as an artwork - the quality? Mushrooms pop up unknowingly and for unknown periods of time - unknown timeline. Cookie cutter art - not unique. Lichen is different. Push that.

P.126 *** Foreign matsutake are ranked according to a set of Japanese preferences that have nothing to do with the conditions under which the mushrooms grew and were foraged and marketed. When they arrive at an import warehouse, they have no connections to pockets and buyers, much less ecological life worlds. For a moment they are fully capitalist commodities.


Indeterminate encounters matter in shaping capitalism. Yet it is not a wild profusion. Some commitments are sustained through force.

Two have been particularly important for my thinking in this book. First, alienation is that form of disengagement that allows the making of capitalist assets. Capitalist commodities are removed from their life worlds to serve as counters in the making of further investments. Infinite needs are one result; there is no limit on how many assets investors want. Thus, too, alienation makes possible accumulation - the amassing of investment capital, and this is the second of my concerns. Accumulation is important because it converts ownership into power. Those with capital can overturn communities and ecologies. Meanwhile, because capitalism is a system of commensuration, capitalist value forms flourish even across great circuits of difference. Money becomes investment capital, which can produce more money. Capitalism is a translation machine for producing capital from all kinds of livelihoods, human and not human. Note #2

Feminist scholars have shown that class formation is also cultural formation: the origin of my patches.

P.134-135 all of it - cell phone metals

“The business of progress depended on conquering an infinitely rich nature through alienation and scalability.” P. 135

P.142 autopoiesis !!! Symbiopoiesis

P.141, “many organisms develop only through interactions with other species.”

  • tiny Hawaiian squid (note 7) Euprymna scolopes, known for its light organ, through which it mimics moonlight, hiding is shadow from predators. But juvenile squid do not develop this organ unless they come into contact with one particular species of bacteria, Vibrio fischeri. The squid are not born with these bacteria; they must encounter them in seawater. Without them their light organ never develops. !!!!

  • Consider the parasitic wasp Asobara tabida. Females are completely unable to produce eggs without the bacteria of the genus Wolbachia. (Note 8)

  • Meanwhile, larvae of the large blue butterfly, Maculinea arion are unable to survive without being taken in by an ant colony. (Note 9)

  • Even we proudly independent humans are unable to digest our food without helpful bacteria, first gained as we slide out of the birth canal. Ninety percent of the cells in a human body are bacteria. We can't do without them. (Note 10)

Also thinking of bees and pollinators in general and how humans depend on them. Even though the bees have had their own pandemic, largely created by extractive humans with the use of pesticides. :(

More and more, they wrote, symbiosis appears to be the “rule”, not the exception… nature may be selecting ‘relationships’ rather than individuals or genomes.

Scott Gilbert and David Epel ecological developmental biology (book)

P.142-143 all of it -lichens

P.152 restoration requires disturbance - but disturbance to enhance diversity and the healthy functioning of ecosystems.

...disturbance taking possibilities for transformative encounter. Landscape patches emerge from disturbance. Thus precarity is enacted in more-than-human sociality.

P.156 nematode !!!!!!!!!

P.157 ***entire thesis **** polyphony - assemblages

P.158 By taking landscape-based assemblages as my object, it is possible to attend to the interplay of many organisms’ actions. I am not limited to tracking human relations with their favored allies, as in most animal studies. Organisms don't have to show their human equivalence (as conscious agents, intentional communicators, or ethical subjects) to count. If we are interested in livability, impermanence, and emergence, we should be watching the action of landscape assemblages. Assemblages coalesce, change, and dissolve: this is the story.

Note #13 here I evoke the “new alliance” of Ilya Prigogine and isabelle Stenger’s La nouvelle alliance, unfortunately translated into English as order out of chaos (New York: Bantam Books, 1984) There argue that that appreciation of indeterminacy and irreversible time might help lead to a new alliance between the natural and human sciences. The gauntlet they lay down inspires my efforts.

Note #4-8 David Richardson and Steven Higgins, Ecology and Biogeography of Pinus. Cambridge university press 1998

P.174 masting refers to more than tracking weather changes from year to year; it requires multi year strategic planning so that carbohydrates stored up one year might be expended in later fruiting. Furthermore, mast fruiting occurs in trees with mycorrhizal partners; the storage and expenditure necessary for masting appears to be coordinated between trees and their fungi. Fungi store carbohydrates for the future fruiting of trees. Might trees also accommodate the uneven fruiting of fungi? I know of no research that tracks how final fruiting is coordinated with tree masting, but there is an enticing mystery here.

Birch - pine - spruce - their history / timeline

P.182-183 “woodlands have been largely abandoned, as fossil fuels have replaced firewood and as the younger generation has moved to the city?” how humans create disturbances / happenings / interactions that help forests and organisms by human work / remediation. Peasant landscapes are the proving grounds for remaking sustainable relations between humans and nature.

P.196-9 Klamath tribe

Lodgepole and fir trees grew in cut over forest lots of positives but it (lodgepole) burns rapidly (“dog hair regeneration”) grow in thick dense patches

Without the use of fire as a forestry strategy - lodgepoles were and are able to grow old. This is where matsutake have chosen to pop up - in older 40/60+ year old trees.

40+ year old lodgepole wouldn't have existed if not for the first service excluding fire.

P.200 “Unintended consequence of the most famous forest service mistake in the interior forests of the American west: the exclusion of fire”

P. 201 All forest management in USA in the 1980s - became impossible for foresters to propose any initiative that was not both specifically mandated by law and cheap. All forest management would have to be subcontracted to loggers in exchange for the best remaining trees. Labor intensive treatments were no longer an option. Without the dominance of big timber money, foresters have increasingly seen their job as one of balancing various interests--among different forest users (e.g., wildlife vs. loggers), among different forestry approaches (e.g., sustainable yield vs. sustainable eco systems services), and among different patch ecologies (e.g., even vs. uneven-aged management). Missing a singular path to progress, they juggle alternatives.

P. 202 2008: one forest district decided to officially experiment with lodgepole management for matsutake. To appreciate how strange this is, consider that no other nontimber forest product has attained the status of management objective, at least in this part of the country.

History of logging, Oregon vs Japan vs China vs finland - different logging and forestry practices-exclusion of fire - learning as they go - not trading ideas and talking to each other

War, international issues - all contribute here

P. 207 Trying to start forest fires intentionally for war, etc.

P.213 “the difference between disappearing forests, forests plagued by overcrowding and pests, and forests left to grow when conversions to plantations prove uneconomic, matters. Intersecting historical processes produced forest ruins in Oregon and Japan, but it would be preposterous to argue that forest making forces and reactions are therefore the same. The singularity of interspaces gatherings matters; that's why the world remains ecologically heterogeneous despite globe-spanning powers. The intricacies of global coordination also matter; not all connections have the same effects. To write a history of ruin, we need to follow broken bits of many stores and to move in and out of many patches. In the play of global power, indeterminate encounters are still important.”

P.243 Candy cane (allotropa virgata) forms a red and white striped stalk adorned by flowers but completely without the chlorophyll that would allow it to make us own food. Instead, the plant drains sugars from matsutake, which in turn takes them from the trees. (Note #2) Ever b after the flower fades, Candy cane’s dry stalks can be seen in the forest, and they are an indicator of matsutake- whether fruiting, or just a ball of final threads underground. (Reminds me of ghost pipe, native to where I grew up and live.)

Life lines are entangled: Candy came and matsutake; matsutake and its host trees; host trees and herbs, Moses, insects, soil bacteria, and forest animals; heaving bumps and mushroom pickers. Matsutake pockets are alert to life lines in the forest; searching with all the senses creates this alertness. It is a form of forest knowledge and appreciation without the completeness of classification. Instead, searching brings us to the loneliness of being experienced as subjects rather than objects.

P.254 inchoate


Being in a beginning or early stage; incipient.

Imperfectly formed or developed; disordered or incoherent.

Recently, or just, begun; beginning; partially but not fully in existence or operation; existing in its elements; incomplete.

The making of a popular educator: the journey of Beverly A. Brown (Portland OR: Bridgetown printing 2010).

P.255 stretching concepts of the commons

(Entire page of latent commons) *** humans are never fully in control

P.258 they hope their actions might stimulate a latent commons, that is, an eruption of shared assembly, even as they know they can't actually make commons.

Shiho Satsuka introduced me to groups who disturb the landscape as a way of stimulating changes in multi species gatherings -and themselves.

This chapter tells the story of woodlands revitalization groups who hope that small-scale disturbance might draw both people and forests out of alienation, building a world of overlapping lifeways in which mutualistic transformation, the mode of mycorrhiza, might yet be possible.

The Crusaders do not aim for finished gardens; they work for still emergent forests, which arrange themselves around the possibilities of traditional sized disturbance. The satoyama becomes a zone where more than human social relations-including their own-have a chance to flourish.

P.263 the economy of spectacles and desires flourished, but it became detached from life-course expectations. It became harder to imagine where life should lead and what, besides commodities, should be in it. One iconic person called attention to this problem: the hikikomori is a young person, usually a teenage boy, who shuts himself in his room and refuses face-to-face contact. Hikikomori live through electronic media. They isolate themselves through engagement in the world of images that leaves them free from embodied sociality - and mired in a self made prison. They capture the nightmare of urban anomie for many: there is a little bit of hikikomori in all of us.

Satoyama revitalization addresses the problem of anomie because it builds social relations with other beings. Humans become only one of many participants in making livability. Participants wait for trees and fungi to associate with them. ….. all are engaged in remaking persons as well as landscapes.

P.278 matsiman: precarity means not being able to plan. But it also stimulates noticing, as one works with what is available.

279 Lu Min Vaario- this finding inspired her to begin a research project on matsutake’s “good neighbors”, both living and dead. Here charcoal joins living trees, fungi, and soil microbes. She investigates how neighborliness - that is, social relations across differences of both vitality and species-is essential to good living. (Note #3)

Mutuality across difference-for humans as well.

Saprobe - eater of the dead

280 Not just for getting by, but for getting by with verve

P.281 without meaning to, most of us learn to ignore the multispecies worlds around us. Projects for rebuilding curiosity, like that of Tanaka-san, are essential work for living with others.

P.282 without stories of progress, the world has become a terrifying place. The ruin glare at us with the horror of it's abandonment. It's not easy to know how to make a life, much less avert planetary destruction. Luckily there is still company, human and not human. We can still explore the overgrown verges of our blasted landscapes-the edges of capitalist discipline, scalability, and abandoned resource plantations. We can still catch the scent of the latent commons - and the elusive autumn aroma.

Recent Posts

See All

P.24 eroticism opens the way to death. Death opens the way to the denial of our individual lives. Without doing violence to our inner selves, are we able to beat a negation that carries us to the fart

P.53 certainly site-specific art can lead to the unearthing of repressed histories, help provide greater visibility to marginalized groups and issues, and initiate the (re) discovery of “minor” places

P.19 according to the United Nations commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) there are 65.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world today. And this number will grow as distorted economic ‘development