A few days ago, we took a daytrip to Florida. It wasn’t a vacation, although my husband, our son and I did have a lovely time on the way down and back.
It’s amazing the kinds of conversations one might have while confined for four hours at a stretch in a moving vehicle.
I was the driver and Chandler was my navigator in the front passenger seat. Amos reclined, half listening to us – and sometimes responding – in the back.
Driving through the lesser populated area south of Savannah, Chandler noticed stands of trees in swampy troughs. He commented about the way they looked, standing tall, with the morning sun shining on them from the east. “I’ve never really seen them this way,” he said. I wondered if he meant at this time of day, or if he referred to his improved vision with new glasses. Turns out, it was both.
We have had numerous conversations about trees and their underground networks. Chandler learned about this fascinating phenomenon through his study of and foraging for edible mushrooms.
Beneath a healthy forest floor is a microscopic network of fungus, or mycelium, the tiny threads that wrap around and through a tree’s roots. Mushrooms are the “fruit” of the fungus.
The trees that “live” together behave much like humans – communicating with one another, sharing nutrients when one of them is sick, and protecting the weaker among them.
They live in community.
(You can read more about this, and other tree mysteries, in “The Hidden Life of Trees,” by German forester Peter Wohlleben.)
Not long after the tree observations, we were almost as mesmerized by watching vehicles moving around us, noting the style of the cars and trucks, their drivers and their actions and movements from one lane to another, fast or slow.
As I often do, I wondered about the drivers – who are they, where are they going, why are they here in this spot at this particular time?
Chandler had a similar thought. “I’ve always thought of the cars around me on the highway as part of a community,” he said.
I appreciated his communal view, but I was not sure I share that perspective. The trees are a community. Where we live, alongside our neighbors, is a community. Community means interaction, communication, sharing ideas, working together.
Cars, though (for now) driven by humans, are machines with no feelings. Any one of them could come careening toward me for no apparent reason. That doesn’t sound neighborly. We aren’t sharing anything but the road.
The next day, following up on our conversation, I asked Chandler to elaborate on his comment. After his explanation, I changed my mindset.
“Whenever I’m traveling, I’m thinking about my destination and why I’m going there,” he said. “I wonder if all these people are going to the same place.”
He talked about how drivers do indeed interact with one another, as we observe the speed and signals of each other, anticipating lane changes and the like. We might make up what we think their story might be.
Who knows? But we’re all here at the same spot at the same time, so we share part of their story, no matter how insignificant it might seem.
It made sense to me and I felt enlightened.
Hours later, on our return trip, we were lucky to see the most gorgeous sunset – a wide spread of purples, reds and oranges to go with the brilliant yellow of the sun as it disappeared over the horizon.
I knew other drivers must have experienced it too. And I wondered if that shared experience made them feel more a part of our community.