Autonomies has always been much more of a crossroads, and at times, a place of confluence, of thoughts and testimonials of action, of practice and of ways of life, than an ideologically centred collective. If its genealogy harks back to anarchism, the -ism in this case was never orthodox or exclusive.
Its “members” and “contributors”, fixed and passing and with different geographies, do betray personal and political trajectories. How could they not? But even these paths have not congealed into fixed and congealed ideological commitments.
With all of its weaknesses, Autonomies remains an open space for questioning how and why we live as we do, sustained by the belief that authoritarian and appropriating or extractive hierarchies between humans and between humans and other living beings destroy life needlessly and painfully, in a multitude of different ways.
All of this serves as an introduction to a kind of text that has been only rarely posted on the site, an essay originally published with Black Seed (Issue 7), “a publication of an indigenous anarchy” and which has been generously shared with us by its author.
If here at Autonomies, we may not agree with or have questions about what is expressed therein, the idea that anti-capitalist (and “anti-civilisational”) practice must act in capitalist non-spaces – in the same way that “nature”, or life, reclaims space “abandoned” by humans – is something that most of share, however such spaces are interpreted and however such action is imagined. And as a fragment of personal-political experience, the author has no pretensions to offering a universal blueprint for revolution – as if such a thing could exist.
The Revolution of Fungal Life: My Journey as an Anarchist into the Praxis of Mushroom Hunting
For the past seven years I’ve stepped away from a lot of my anarchist resistance projects and stepped into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Learning about nature was always something I meant to do, but I put it off for years. Maybe I considered reading about the negative aspects of life emerging from our initial and continued separation from nature’s rhythms to be absolutely necessary for demystifying the network of domination and my place in it, or maybe I thought breaking bank windows and spraypainting stencils and slogans was the most direct way I could make known my hatred of the totality of civilization, as well as the best way to encourage others to fight against it. When I was younger and my thoughts about anarchy were newer, I found myself drawn to many of the ideas within the green anarchist, pro-situationist, and insurrectionary anarchist tendencies. I spent a great deal of effort trying to further those ideas and practices, but I neglected to really engage with the non-human life that surrounded me. I failed to relearn those lost natural rhythms that, as I hypocritically told everyone who would listen, civilization was silencing. That isn’t to say that I didn’t know a few basic plants and their culinary or medicinal uses, but looking back now it feels like I was paying lip-service. All that changed for me when I began hunting and eating wild mushrooms.
I first ventured into the forest trails around my small city in search of Psilocybes. I’ve since discovered this is a common access point, where many others have found a deeper interest in mycology. I got myself the small field guide All That the Rain Promises and More and went out all fall. I didn’t find any mushrooms, but while searching the fragrant, lush, rain-soaked forest floor I did find so many other fascinating fungal life forms. I was vegan at the time and already familiar with the commercial Portobello (Agaricus), Oyster (Pluerotus) and Shiitake (Lentinula) varieties at the store so I was really excited to find all of these edible and tasty mushrooms just popping up everywhere. For that first year I was too afraid to eat any of the ones I found, thanks to common conditioning about just how easy it is to poison yourself, so I just took them home and learned how to identify them. The following year I was a bit more ready, but I was still too scared to eat anything besides the foolproof basics: Lobsters (Hypo- myces Lactifluorum), Chanterelles (Cantharellus Formosus, Cascaden- sis, and Subalbidus), Oysters (Plu- erotus and Pleurocybella), Zeller’s Boletes (Xerocomellus Zellerii and Chrysenteron), Shaggy Manes (Cop- rinus Comatus) and Shaggy Parasols (Chlorophyllum Brunneum and Olivieri). Occasionally I would go out with an older local anarchist mycologist/mushroom hunter who taught me tips to help pick some of the trickier species like Candy Caps (Lactarius Rubidus) and Shrimp Russulas (Russula Xerampelina). But it wasn’t until my third year out, when I found my first Porcini (Boletus Edulis) that my mushroom hunting began in earnest. I had found and eaten a ton of other new mushrooms that year: the Prince Agaricus complex (augustus and silvicola), Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum and umbilicatum), a Cauliflower (Sparassis crispa), Birch Boletes (Leccinum), Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus Gilbertsonii and Conifericola), but, for reasons I have yet to fully understand, my first Boletus Edulis was a pivotal moment that altered the course of my life.
Where I live there are edible and medicinal fungi fruiting every season, so foraging quickly became a year-round activity for me. Truffles (Tuber) and certain medicinal polypores (Fomotopsis, Trametes) and lichens (Usnea) can be found in the winter, Morels (Morchella) and Spring King Boletes (Boletus Rex- veris) fruit throughout the spring and then into the summer the Agaricus augustus complex, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus), Reishis (Gano- derma), Lobsters (Hypomyces), and Deer Mushrooms (Pluteus cervinus) emerge, until finally everything else pops up when the fall rains begin again. I used to assume that there were only four seasons, maybe five if you include harvest, but I now recognize that there are hundreds. Gathering became a passion that never ended and when I couldn’t find mushrooms I began harvesting medicinal and edible plants. I soon realized that there were seasons within seasons. Cottonwood buds pop out from late January to mid February, Morchella Importuna fruit from mid March to late April, so if I want to collect a lot that year then I can’t miss out on those brief windows. Eventually I began to feel that each new species I harvested represented a single note and as the season of each species layered with or followed the next, the procession of species became a repeating rhythm to me. I was beginning to make out the melody to an ancient and never-ending song, that I could play along with. But only if I were there, living closely amongst its natural composers, could I hear it loud enough to join in.
My joy for mushroom hunting led me to identification through taxonomy. I’ve always enjoyed noticing subtle differences. As an anarchist this helped me avoid traps through understanding and identifying nuances between the various left revolutionary factions—that, if I let them, would have tried to swindle away my creative energy to grow the political power of their organizations—and of course in the immense undertaking of categorizing all of the different forms of control deployed to maintain this culture of domination throughout its his-story. I’ve found that identification is the main holdup when it comes to picking wild mushrooms, but it’s really not as difficult as most people are taught that it is; you just have to pay close attention to variations in form. Basically, every species is unique and has its own morphological features, and if you learn what parts to look for, then it’s actually incredibly hard to poison yourself. I firmly believe that the majority of anarchists, who make it a practice to learn the terms used in the subversive theory they read, and who for the most part critically engage with each other over seemingly similar but actually different radical practices, are discerning and careful enough to master the fundamentals of mushroom taxonomy. While the technical literature uses some pretty loaded terminology (potentially problematic words like kingdom, order, retardant, pioneer, colonize, empirical, etc. or by classifying certain species as higher or lower, etc.) that many anarchists might find irritating, I still believe that it’s worth it. Maybe we, as anarchists, could invent and advocate for better terms than what’re available now.
Most mushrooms are either my- corrhizal or saprophytic or a mix of both in different stages of their life cycle, so I realized I needed to know the varieties of plant life that they were growing with, or feeding on, in order to locate them faster. With the help of keys, I did. Keys are tools that list what descriptors to look to whittle down to the exact species of mushrooms I found. Once I learned to key out most species of edible mushrooms and their plant partners, I just wanted to know who everyone else was. Now, when I walk through the forest, I know almost everyone there, which not only aids in finding the mushrooms I hunt for (by allowing me to view a fuller separation from form (ie, at a glance knowing that’s a fallen alder leaf, not a mushroom) but has actually changed the way I interpret my walk from pretty and mysterious green scenery viewed almost monolithically into a constant reminder that I’m surrounded by life that I recognize and can interact with. This becomes even more true when I return to regular patches and get to know specific individuals over years.
Although I am wholeheartedly opposed to cities, I have found myself living in them for most of my life. I’ve also, for financial reasons, never owned a car, so my mushroom hunting was for the most part limited to searching peoples yards and forest parks around my small city. I find myself doing serious mushroom derives to find new patches to harvest, wandering around on my bike, skateboard, or by foot, exploring new neighborhoods and city parks, making mental maps of trees in yards or wood chips in front of churches, the micro climates of certain neighborhoods, the distance to major roads, any evidence of pesticides or other sources of pollutants on stunted development of plant life and more. While on a mushroom derive I allow myself to be pulled by my own judgments, and it’s more like the Situ- ationists derive than the Surrealists drift, because I analyze the pyscho- geography of the places I find myself in. Unlike both drift and derive, however, I am completely unimpressed by human structures and find my focus points to be, not architecture or side streets, but certain trees, grasses, or piles of wood chips. I often judge my immediate surroundings based on the amount and varieties of life that inhabit them. Forests and gardens, where there are hundreds of living things with endless intricacies to their relationships, become more and more appealing. When I go out on these mushroom derives, I usually end up violating private property laws, which is an excellent way to draw myself into new situations. I’ve made some friends by showing up on their lawn as a stranger, picking mushrooms and introducing myself. I have also been in a lot of altercations with asshole homeowners. Usually, I just calmly let them know that I don’t respect their fucking bullshit middle class sensibilities. Sometimes I come back later and pick their backyards solely on principle. There’s a map of the city I’m piecing together that’s based on repeatedly visiting and checking on the health of individual mycelium. This is a life- affirming pyschogeography, which, along with my developing critiques of mass society, industry, leftism, and technology. have now fully discredited any lingering sympathies for the Situationists’ unitary urbanism. I know see unitary urbanism as a way for council communism to automate production in order to turn the whole of civilization into a series of city-wide Disneylands.
Through mushroom hunting I’ve become more sensitive to picking out natural relationships forming where they are, instead of where I assume they should be. Idealized nature is an impediment to direct connection. While I would prefer to spend most of my days meandering through ancient lowland old growth temperate rainforests of Doug fir and spruce, I find that I spend most of my time in the far more common places where those forests used to be. As I lament the loss of these epic climax ecosystems, I consciously choose not to compartmentalize wildlife into only those purest environments. I’m absolutely opposed to nature as spectacle and therefore seek out habitats (no matter how sparse their threads of relationships may be) that are around me and that I can engage with. This search has helped me more fully understand the plight faced daily by the creatures who endure life in the city and just where those creatures tend to congregate. Understanding the hardships they endure to stick it out in cities makes me examine parallels in my life. I admire that certain kind of tenacity required to exist in places one shouldn’t. As an anarchist I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to kill the cop in my head. What I’ve found is that the state can’t possibly monitor and act within the totality of its own terrain and I can exploit the illusion of total control if I rid myself of ingrained submissive behavior. A combination of a lack of state supervision and the infrastructure to repeatedly enforce its laws are what allow me to go beyond what I would normally allow myself to do. If I choose to, I can then go on to support others in freeing themselves, and as those strings of relationships become more expansive, healthier, and diverse it is that much harder for the forces of social control to remove us. What begins as a few lichens, mosses, grasses, and weeds growing in cracks with a handful of mushroom species supporting them (either through a direct mycorrhizal nutrient exchange or indirectly through the mycelium’s saprophytic digestive process as it breaks down complex, potentially toxic, compounds, cleaning the soil and exposing their roots to important, previously inaccessible, minerals) eventually becomes something more substantial when each passing day more and more biomass is added and repurposed, that build up of top- soil shifts to a different type, that is able to support tree life, larger animals, and other more temperamental specialized species. Those forgotten cracks become a functioning ecosystem. I call the places where this process occurs, capitalist non-spaces. They’re the dark corners, peripheries, less-used and off-limits areas that are built into the city planning. Median strips between opposing lanes of traffic (where I’ve seen my biggest Boletus to date), abandoned fenced- off lots, and buffer zones between train tracks and residential property are only a few examples. These are places where, for some reason or another, nothing is supposed to happen. They’re the un-trafficked temporary refuges for life—often mistakenly referred to as dead zones—that exist almost everywhere I look. The spiders in your house or the raccoon who eats your trash, the capitalist non-space is where they live. It’s the psychic manifestation of the notion that everyone must have a socially legitimate reason in order to be somewhere or else face judgment. If I were somehow able to track the physical pathways that the herd uses daily and subsequently highlight them on a map, the negative space would likely represent non-spaces. It’s where the herd seldom ventures, because built into its design is some utilitarian or aesthetic function that either purposefully or inadvertently, through law or through social norms, restricts or deters exploration. Nonspaces attract life because nature abhors a vacuum and because of the unstoppable force of entropy. These might seem like blanket statements, but to me they are some of the most inspiring forces of destruction and creation imaginable, carried out by individuals who, through study and over time, I’ve come to know. To notice these creatures build a hodgepodge ecosystem in an environment so hostile to life, was crucial to developing my own eco-anarchist ideas of the importance of place, and perhaps can serve as an example of what the forces driving ruination can offer to those of us who have similar goals.
Mushrooms, and fungus in general, play an enormous role in entropy, which is the basis for any future ecological equilibrium that will come along to reckon with civilization’s disturbances. Fungi actively destroy historical artifacts, buildings, ships, and mines; they can derail trains and cause plane crashes, degrade the military’s munitions stockpile, fuck up lawns, blight entire landscapes of mono-cropped agricultural staples, make un-sellable up to one-fifth of the global markets’ annual wood supply, and, through mycotoxin buildups from molds in our bodies and pathogenic fungal infections, kill us. In the end, fungus will destroy every last thing civilization has ever constructed.
One of my strongest drives is to eat wild food that I’ve gathered myself, so entropy, through the processes of fungal decay, is the side I support. I want everywhere I go to be filled with even more complex ecological threads, not just because that means more interesting natural behavior for me to admire, but because that means cleaner, healthier, and more abundant food available for me and those I choose to share it with. By taking on a more active role in the ruination of this synthetic environment (which has been doomed from the start), I support the creation of the wild places that comfort me.
In the reordering of my worldview, which I consider to be a positive consequence shaped largely by mushroom hunting, an analysis of place became more important in my interpretation of crystallized power relations, the roles required to maintain them, the terrain created to fulfill it, and the mental conditioning required to navigate that terrain. When I observe society’s routine movements, it makes total sense that capitalist non-spaces exist. The technology of speed (which I argue shapes civilization’s historical development much more than wealth creation, despite Marxist theories to the contrary) is crucial for the reproduction of everyday life and has erased place in order to erase distance. Mostly the human herd moves from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and with the increased advances in the streamlining of transportation technology and infrastructure, anywhere in between becomes merely the nuisance of the daily commute. The inevitable erasure of place through the desired elimination of distance, coupled with industry’s disastrous effects on the land, has turned just being in nature into a spectacle and a commodity. I’ve driven with friends on a road trip of seven and a half hours to spend a few nights camping in a pristine ecosystem that should exist right here in the deforested, shotgun shell-laden hills only a half an hour from where I live. I’ve seen others save up thousands of dollars to fly thousands of miles to Antarctica or a tropical coral reef somewhere. I think that by focusing so much on the exact place I am at the moment and my relation to the beings that make it up, I live my life in the present moment and am less plagued by the problems associated with being either past- or future- oriented. By hunting for mushrooms, a non-surrogate activity that engages my physical self, I’m also that much more able to remain present in my body.
Protective environmental legislation, campaigns for conservationism of environmentalist organizations, and the hands-off approach to those places deemed unworthy of our participation or protection, are all negative consequences of fetishizing pure, virgin eco-systems. The policing of forests with greenwashed, NGO-backed legislation is a threat to mushroom hunting and rewilding as a practice in general. Laws in California ban picking mushrooms entirely except in designated and policed parks where you are only allowed to pick five pounds. At first these restrictions were suggested by Bay Area liberal mycologi- cal societies who were reacting to the emerging influx of Asian commercial mushroom pickers, but later it was picked up by large policy-changing environmental nonprofits and has resulted in creating a network of outlaw mushroom hunters and an entire state where two whole generations have been denied access to and even guilted for what I consider to be the normal, natural animal inclination to forage for food and medicine. I’ve heard of environmentalists who’ve supported taking children out to go berry looking, because picking has a detrimental effect on the health of the overall forest. It’s my view that these restrictions on gathering create a dangerous attitude of indifference when it comes to wild nature, which will lead to the further ecological devastation of the very places they want to protect. In an effort to keep nature a gorgeous spectacle to look at, environmental lobbyists pushed for and succeeded in expanding the budgets of the state’s natural resource apparatuses. This filled the woods with khakied forest cops whose job is to police my actions in the wilderness. I think that if this pattern of legally harassing mushroom hunters continues, then all the practical knowledge that’s been learned from successful sustainable wild harvesting practices over successive generations will be lost. It was important for me to learn how to look for bio-indicators of a places’ health and strength so I can take the actions needed to ensure it’s future harvest and to share that knowledge with others. It’s only through the hands of direct interaction and not the lens of passive observation that intimate knowledge of an area over time is even able to be honed at all. Not exactly the same, but similar enough to mention here, were entire generations of truffle cultivators who took what they knew about truffles to their deaths in the trenches of the world wars, or the lost swidden/fal- low farming practices that either died along with the tribes that perfected them or were outlawed and driven underground during the long and bloody civilizing process forced upon the original people of the continent where I live. I don’t want the only people to be allowed to do what they want in the forest to be capitalists and grad students and I don’t want subsistence farming and the supermarket to be my only options for feeding myself. For the most part, picking mushrooms out of their mycelium is like picking fruits out of their tree, as long as the tree remains healthy and a few of the seeds end up in adequate germinating conditions then the fruit will come back next fruiting season and the tree will have passed on its genes to the next generation. Even though we know scientifically that picking mushrooms won’t curtail their continued exis- tence—and other factors such as competition with invasive species, habitat loss, climate change and pollution are the real main threats to mushroom populations—they still police me like a poacher. There are certain unsustainable harvesting practices, such as indiscriminately raking for truffles or denying a species their seasonal spore release by only picking the youngest firmest mushrooms (due to the shipping pressures of their short shelf lives), responsible for the decline in certain populations and disruptions in the nutrient exchange cycles of ecosystems. But I think these problems would go away if there wasn’t a global market and its required infrastructure to facilitate their transportation and sale and if there wasn’t the constant grinding economic determinism that forces hunters to over-harvest.
Mushroom hunting, and the skill sets needed for hunting and gathering in general, has given me a rewarding sense of autonomy, connection, and relief when confronted with the problems of food security and nutrition. I wasn’t aware of just how broad the range was of wild foods seasonally available to me in my bioregion, or how related their nutritional profiles and gastronomic qualities were to their terrain. When I shop for what I can afford at the grocery store, I’m forced to make the choice between quality or quantity, both of which options pale in comparison to the nutritional value of a diet diverse in wild foods. So I gather them myself to supplement my meals, allowing me to afford the more quality foods I enjoy and not lose out on portion size. I feel that through fostering this kind of thrifty survivalist self-reliance, I have far fewer concerns about disruptions in supply chains caused by natural disasters, or people I could be friends with, I also have something beneficial, other than my limited defensive capabilities and my desire to escalate revolt, to offer to the people around me if they ever get so rebellious that the state does what empires throughout history have always done, and tries to implement starvation with itself as the solution. To paraphrase a dead guy I still respect: I spent my teenage years squatting and traveling. I’ve spent most of the last seven in the woods. I never forget a plant or mushroom I’ve gathered myself. I know how to accommodate myself for awhile and I am not the least bit afraid of ruins. I haven’t the slightest doubt that I inhabit the earth. Let the bourgeoisie and essential proletarians rip apart their bright new world before they leave the stage of history, because I’ll carry on forming better relationships with the natural world, and healthier ones, right here in this minute, throughout the collapse of the new.
Although I’m aware of the pitfalls of conservatism historically rooted in rural agricultural-based life, I consider permaculture land projects to be one of the last, and safest, healthy ways available for me to spend the rest of my daily life as free as I can. The biggest impediment I’ve faced, and I know this is true for many anarchists looking to form their own communities, is money. Land that’s enough to support the kind of projects I want, but affordable enough to be realistic, is usually wrecked in some way by industry. Mushrooms are amazing bioremediators able to clean up dangerous industrial wastes such as petroleum, and fecal and nuclear compounds. Knowing that I can work with fungi’s mycoremediation capabilities mitigates my concerns about finding an acceptable, affordable place to live.
I admit that at the moment I don’t have any skills in growing mycelium, but I plan to get them. Of course I’m interested in their magnificent culinary and medicinal uses, but in a much more profound way I want to practice growing mushrooms in order to begin my own personal my- coremediation campaign. My fascination with capitalist non-places and my desire to deepen the natural rhythms I enjoy, means I want to help these places heal from the degrading effects caused by industry and the disgusting inconsiderate behavior of the humans who surround me. I care about the health of the species that assemble themselves into the biosphere, but realize that I can only act from my position. Mycoremediation can allow me act, interact, and counteract in ways previously inaccessible to me.
For those of you who plan on, or who already are, confronting the architects responsible for this daily horror show directly, instead of acting in a more caretaker role, mushrooms can offer you up some powerful and subtle methods of attack that you can to add to your arsenal of individual reprisal. Caesars have been poisoned by the same species of Amanitas (Phalloides, Virosa, Bisporigera, Ocreata, etc.) that you could find in your own neighborhood and use on their modern day counterparts. I’ve read that they taste delicious before they shut down your liver and painfully kill you over the next few days. Dehydrated and powdered, you could carry them around and add them to food and drink, and because of the time lapse prior to the onset of symptoms, you would still have time to leave the area before anyone’s the wiser. If assassination isn’t your jam, you could use those same methods to dose your enemies with psychedelics. One thing to keep in mind with dosing, is that cops and soldiers have weapons and react violently to most situations, but I suppose if you’re going to go into open battle with the state’s security forces then that destabilization could be life saving. Imagine watching the CSPAN videos on YouTube of Lindsey Graham and the other politicians high as fuck on the senate floor, coming to insane realizations about life live on air. Or the released CCTV footage of DOJ office workers ripping apart their cubicles and making love. Hilarious. It’s not only their lives and world-views at stake. Perfecting the art of isolating cultures and colonizing substrates makes their whole oppressive physical landscape susceptible to intentional decay and entropy. Fungi like Heterobasidium, Lentinus, Acremonium, Aspergillus and Peziza, to briefly name a few, can truly make punk a threat again.
It’s my belief that the psychedelic mushrooms in the Psilocybe family and the fungal based synthetic chemical LSD are powerful liberato- ry tools for the radical process of selfrecreation that I consider paramount to the anarchist project of freeing your mind. I can disrupt my socially conditioned parameters through accessing previously unaware realms of thought and redefine myself by placing focus and intention on strengthening the drives that matter most to me and choosing to ignore and let whither those that don’t serve me anymore (and maybe never did). By undoing myself in order to rebuild myself, I consider the whole experience less of an ego death and more of an exercise in egoist depth. While I haven’t used Psilocybes in years, and I certainly don’t condone their abuse or believe they were instrumental to human evolution, I do strongly advocate for their use in this way.
I am an atheist and my deeply materialistic worldview has no room for spooks of any kind. I do my best not to believe in things that aren’t there and am generally hostile to ideas that can’t be reasoned out or proven. Although I have a critique of technology and science, I find the scientific method to be one of the most helpful ways to make sense of the universe and my tiny place in it. Yet, surprisingly, I find myself feeling deeply spiritual when I’m on my knees at the base of a Douglas fir picking chanterelles. I even sort of worship them. When I’ve been walking in the rain, deep through the woods all day, and I’m tired, wet, cold, sore, cut up from brambles, stabbed by branches, and a little bit lost, I feel a kind of personal peace and contentment that comes along with non-surrogate activities. When I fill baskets full of my favorite mushrooms it almost feels like my ordeal is an offering and I’m rewarded for it with an epic harvest by my ancient dark gods, those tangled webs of filamentous hyphae that in silence have, for over half a billion years, destroyed and recreated the world over and over.
When approached to share my thoughts about mushrooms and how my experience with them relates to the anarchist project, I didn’t think it did. But after exploring the ideas brought up in this piece, I now see that they have a lot to offer each other and I hope I made some of that clearer by sharing my story with you. This piece again reminds me of the mushroom life cycle: my thought process as the mycelium, my story as the mushroom, the ideas dispersing as spores, you the reader as the suitable germinating environment, and what you do with those ideas. The successful spread into new places. May my spores find you well and their germination spread the collapse of this bright new world in unforeseeable ways.
(Disclaimer, this is for entertainment purposes only and in no way do I condone anyone doing super cool stuff like breaking the herd’s precious little laws.)
(Issues of the Black Seed magazine can be found at the Anarchist Library).