Gaia and the Mycorrhizal Pipeline

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This is one page of the Metaphoriuminomicon

Quotes of the Day

My two-year old daughter and I were playing with large, cardboard blocks. ...
I would stand a block upright
and she would knock it down ...
with a laughter that grew almost fiendish in its delight
at relentlessly destroying everything.
But then I suddenly saw her actions from a different point of view.
My daughter had ignored the blocks until now
because she was not strong enough
or coordinated enough
... to build anything with them. ...
By setting up blocks in higher energy states,
I had created a situation in which her uncoordinated weakness
could visibly cause quick, significant changes. ...
Suddenly the blocks were interesting.
Now she will begin to play with them.
Now she will begin to develop ... the strength to stack ...
The "fiendish" knocking down of blocks
was a necessary first step
in learning how to build them up. ...
Our species is following a similar learning curve
in relation to our environment."
--Paul Krafel, Seeing Nature; Deliberate encounters with the visible world, Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vermont pp 169-70.
Gentlemen,
the Horta moves through rock
the way we move through air,
and it leaves tunnels.
The greatest natural miners in the universe.
It seems to me we could make an agreement,
reach a modus vivendi.
They tunnel.
You collect and process...
--Star Trek, the Devil in the Dark, Captain Kirk speaking to the miners of Janus VI

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

You are sitting behind your elephant as she drives one of the new Boring Company Horta 6000 tunneling machines. She expertly slaloms the machine around the ground source heat pump shafts of a small town that you pass under. She is a little angry and she seems to be taking out on the machine’s controls. "I can't believe we have been hired to dig this bitumen pipeline. How do evil people end up controlling everything? It tastes of blasphemy to be using a machine built to remove transportation infrastructure from the living surface of the world, to be using it to help the evil oil corporations move their filth around."

As the machine rocks back and forth through the tight turns you feel someone in the seat next to you gently lean against you. You glance to your left and see Terra sitting beside you, wearing Gaia.

"Oh!" you exclaim in surprise, "Gaia, how did you get here?"

"Ha!" Terra scoffs, her incandescent breath singing the back of your elephant's chair, "What a question! I was here before you started tunneling through me, Superficial One!"

Gaia closes her mask over Terra's mouth and says, "Don't mind her; she's just itchy from all the tunneling that you are doing."

"I am sorry, Terra," You ask, worried, “We shouldn't be digging this pipeline, should we?"

"Exactly," Terra cries, flames erupting from her mouth and eyes, "You think that you are the gods!"

"There is always someone who wants to keep things the same," Gaia says, tugging her mask back over Terra's face. "I remember the Silurian..."

The Horta suddenly smashes out of a cliff face a dozen feet above a rocky plain. "Weird!" you say as the machine arches smoothly through the air, "The stonar said there was solid rock for miles ahead."

The machine crashes into the rocks but the crush zones and airbags protect you. Your elephant, excited and energized by adrenalin, uses her enormous strength and heavy tusks to rip through the mangled cockpit door and a minute later you are riding your elephant out of the wreckage. Terra follows you still wearing Gaia, but now Terra is a child not a pregnant woman.

"The stonar was scanning Holocene geology, Little One." Gaia replies catching her breath after all the excitement of the crash. The cloth that makes up Gaia leaves large patches of Terra exposed. It is covered in animated embroidery of arthropods, cephalopods, sessile filter feeders, a few fish, bacteria, funguses and tiny plants, "I transitioned it to Silurian geology without much warning." She smiles mischievously.

To the North, you see a giant glacial wall of ice but even as you watch you see huge pieces calving off and crashing to the rocks below. To the East you see a massive river pouring over the edge of the glacier into a bright turquoise lake. To the North-West, along the cliff from which your machine emerged, another river emerges from an ice cave set into the glacial wall and then flows East into the lake which extends to the Eastern horizon. To the South a vast green plain extends.

You see movement along the edge of the lake and, curious as to what it is, your elephant begins to walk along the northern edge of the green plain towards it. Terra and Gaia follow.

As you approach it, you see that the plain is not covered in grasses but instead cooksonioid sporophytes, tiny branching stems with inverted-cone-shaped spore pods at the tip of each stem. On the ground beneath them soft leaf like structures radiate out from each plant. Each plant is only about 5 cm across and 2 cm tall.

The ground of the plain is spongy and, you see looking behind you, soaking wet so that round puddles fill your elephant's footprints and then slowly disappear as the elastic ground expands back upward into them.

As you approach the lake you see that a group of nautiloids is marching two by two along the beach carrying placards which say "Stop the Pipeline, Save the Earth from Glaciation"

Your elephant steps onto the beach and enjoys the feel of warm sand on her feet. You ask Gaia, "Who would be building a pipeline in the Silurian?"

"The mycorrhizal networks, Little One." Gaia laughs indicating the cooksonioids.

"The roots of these prehistoric plants are connected by mycorrhiza?" you ask, incredulously.

"Of course, Little One." Gaia says, "these little plants were so dependent on a continuous supply of water. There was immense pressure to find ways to stay hydrated. The mycorrhizal networks developed early."

You look around, "Where's the pipeline?" you ask.

Gaia laughs, "Underground, Little One. It isn't really a line either. It is the whole layer of mycorrhizal network."

"Wait a minute!" you cry, "How are soil fungi accessing petroleum and transporting it without it poisoning them?"

Gaia laughs, "Petroleum? Little One, you are correct; these networks would be unable to metabolize petroleum. No, they are transporting water from this glacial lake to keep their soil moist for many miles.

"Why are the protestors upset?" you ask, " Those two rivers will more than make up for the loss from the lake to a little wicking!"

Gaia smiles and explains, "They are worried about carbon sequestration."

"Wow!" you exclaim, "To think that protestors have been demanding carbon sequestration programs for four hundred million years!"

Gaia laughs again, "Demanding it? No, they are protesting it. As long as these plants are kept hydrated, they will suck carbon dioxide from the air. If they keep it up, the fear is that they could cause a relapse into the ice age which formed that massive glacier. It may be melting back now but shift the balance and it could be advancing again."

Terra speaks again in her flaming voice, "They have no business messing with my glaciers and my oceans!"

"But, if they hadn't, then land-plant forests and all their biodiversity would never have evolved." You cry in dismay.

Terra snarls, "If only those cephalopods knew how to make fire, they could burn your stupid land-plants and their evil unthinking stupid experiment with my atmosphere."

You turn toward Terra, ignoring Gaia whom she is wearing, "You’re the evil one if you want to stop land-plants. They are the basis of complex land life. They are the basis of all that is green and good in the world." You raise your hand to strike her but then you feel a gently restraining hand on your shoulder. You turn and Gaia is also standing behind you. The scene has shifted. Behind you your massive walled city stands on the edge of a battlefield. You glance back toward Terra but Refugia is there instead with her army in the distance behind her, "Is not Life precious?" Gaia asks.

"It has always been precious; it will always be precious." you respond by rote.

Gaia waves her hand and the scene shifts again. You are in a modern city. Tear gas canisters are rolling amongst masked protestors. A line of riot police is advancing. Protestors are dropping their placards as they cough. Others are lighting Molotov cocktails. You read the placards, "Climate Action Now", "The Earth is Our Mother", "Stop Big Oil Now".

Your elephant turns toward the riot police. Images of tusks piercing riot shields and elephant feet stepping on police helmets fill your mind, "Evil Corporate Shills!" you cry and are about to charge but then you feel a gently restraining hand on your shoulder. You turn and Gaia is also standing behind you. The scene has shifted yet again. Behind you your massive walled city stands on the edge of a battlefield. You glance back toward The Riot Police but Refugia is there instead with her army in the distance behind her, "Is not Life precious?" Gaia asks.

"It has always been precious; it will always be precious." you respond by rote.

Gaia waves her hand again. You are standing beside your elephant in a child's playroom. Sitting on the floor is a baby version of Civis. Infront of Civis on the floor, little towers of blocks are growing out of the floor. She reaches out and slaps one and the blocks tumble and scatter across the floor. Civis laughs almost fiendishly, the happy laugh of a toddler learning her power to destroy, "Evil, isn't she?" Gaia says her voice dripping with irony.

But you see the actions of Civis from a different point of view. "The fiendish knocking down of blocks is a necessary first step in learning how to build them up." you quote

Gaia and Terra smile, "It doesn't just apply to species, Little One." They say together, "It applies to biospheres and civilizations and even individuals."

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