It was on a walk along the Lenape trail earlier today, through Mills Reservation in Essex County, that we spotted this mushroom.

As most of us know, a mushroom is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelium that runs subterranean. And here in this forest were a variety of trees with roots that branched beneath the surface. As Robert Kourik in his work ‘Roots Demystified’ mentions [1] “While one rule of limb has been that a tree’s roots are one and one-half to three times wider than the foliage, other investigators estimate an irregular root pattern four to seven times the crown area; and, still other researchers maintain that the root extension can be four to eight times wider than the dripline of the tree, but only under certain conditions.” 

Leafy excess

This evening, something triggered me to compare the subterranean systems to John Gray’s idea of atheists as inverted believers. It may have simply been the word ‘inverted’ or the pessimistic philosopher himself that struck me, whose work I read with keen interest a few years ago. Terry Eagleton wrote of Gray’s book ‘Seven Types of Atheism’ in 2018 [2], that according to Gray, most humanists are atheists and have substituted humanity for God and that the  popular belief of atheism and religion as opposites, is a mistake. Religions are not theories of the world but forms of life and are less systems of belief than acts of faith and therefore he considered many fanatical atheists as no more than inverted believers. I am curious about this idea just as I am about a tree or a mushroom. I find a tree to be that sort of organism that has its lungs on the outside while the being itself remains embedded in the Earth, just like the mushroom emerges from its subterranean mycelium.


Well, my poem is not about John Gray or mushrooms or the Lenape or atheists, it is actually on the concept of inversion in trees. I must thank John Gray for inspiring this thought, though.

A seed lay buried to fate in a copse of stately Oak / Leafy susurrations in the crown above, seem to ruffle a verdant cloak / like wind subdued grasses in a glade //

Germination is but an adventitious murmur / seeking the depth of a dark silence / in roots swaddling the Earth like it would have simply crumbled otherwise //

The tree of life is scattershot / hidden from the eye of the Sun / It bends whichever way in seeking baptismal waters / sunk in the innards of the Globe //

There then, where roots are girdled / they chase around themselves in sacred enclosures until / they have choked the trunk to their aerial lung // 

In such viridescence resides poetry / a glint and shimmer until the flicker of Fall / but the trees themselves remain embedded in the mythology of loam //
Speckled in light, unfortunately


[1]Roots Demystified, Chapter 9,  Robert Kourik, 2008. (He did his research for this chapter at the UC Agricultural Libraries at Berkeley and Davis in the late 1980s)~