Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Complexity, Diversity, Health

We had just moved into our new place, a stretch and a stress with three young kids. I was too poor or too cheap to buy a "real" tree so I rescued a six-inch birch sapling from a piece of soil next to the old basketball court at Hoyt Field. Into the ground it went, out front, next to the street. Not a hopeful spot. Shaded and sucked dry by a Norway maple and right where the neighborhood dogs liked to mark their territory. The soil was sandy and the rest of the "garden" was being used as a dog run by the women who lived next door. 

It got worse before it got better. As the sapling grew to two feet, three feet, the shade intensified, as did the imperious reddish roots of the maple. Then a bad winter, nowhere to put the salty slushy heavy snow than in our front yard. It never had "flowers" or a "lawn" so it took some time before the neighbors understood it was a garden. Meanwhile, anything to get those cars back on the road! So our birch bent and then snapped under the weight of filthy icy crud from the street. It took a few more years until it found its apical meristem and started to grow upward with any enthusiasm. 

Last year I noticed a change, a kind of push upward that accelerated this spring. Just a good season? And about a week ago we saw the first mushroom pushing its way through the thick leaf litter. A decomposer? Maybe...there's a lot down there. And then this morning after days of rain and muggy humidity, an unmistakeable fairy ring. Mission accomplished. The birch had found a mycorrhizal partner in the soil. The fruiting bodies of the fungus had arranged themselves around the growing tips of the roots, exchanging trace nutrients, water, and protection for photosynthetic sugars produced by the tree. From a trashed afterthought to a garden, complex, diverse, healthy. 

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