Sarahmarie Specht-Bird

God is a Mushroom

God is a mushroom. God is the cucumber watermelon-rind smell of Cerioporus squamosus emerging from the slipping bark of a slippery elm. God is fresh cucumbers, and cucumber slices placed on eyelids that cool the tendons and tell them, delicately, you can stop screaming now. God is the force that makes the chitin break through the soil, for which there is a word in Potawatomi, according to Robin Wall Kimmerer, and the word is puhpowee, which is also God, and means, roughly, “the force which causes the mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.”

When I google “animism,” the internet tells me that this word means “attributing a soul to plants and animals, or the belief in a supernatural power that animates or organizes the universe.” I want to live in a place that collectively listens for fiddlehead ferns and the emerging of cicadas from the soil after almost two decades—alive, eating—and a place with eyes on the ground rediscovering what it is to sort an elm from an ash and a leaf from the pinprick of soft gray life that will become the morel and the flowers that are slowly, slowly, starting to become known and named, which existed and exist, but were unseen until my white eyes, scanning for something else, saw them.

What is it like to just listen, and not extract? What is it like to walk in the woods, and expect nothing? What is it not to turn every unit into a commodity? What is it to not be thinking all the time of what I can make, so that I can sell it?

What is it like to slow down, not care so much about everything and everyone else and what they think and whether I am good enough, and instead just be?

I have found these things, but only when not looking for them:

Pheasant back
& etc.

When I spend too long on TikTok watching awkwardly funny dance videos, the water gets sucked from my eyeballs and goes somewhere else. My eyes are not like the channel-shaped leaves of mosses and so, devoid of sufficient blinking, they dry and burn, but I still keep watching.

After teaching another Zoom class, my throat is sore and tired, but my heart is wide and full and deep. My students tell me about their families and their plans for Ramadan. One tells a story about a trip to the grocery store, where she was wearing a mask. While she was browsing the aisles, a child looked at her in wonder, full in the half-face, and said, “You have such beautiful eyes.” Hiding part of us brings out another: God.

There are elderly women who still live in the woods outside Pripyat. I watched a documentary about them called The Babushkas of Chernobyl. They are tied to the land, they believe the land cannot possibly hurt them. It’s not the land, precisely, that hurts them, though, but what some humans did to the land, carried through the water and soil and mycelia. They pick mushrooms in the forest, without considering the networks that stretch unseen for miles under their radioactive feet. Because why should they? This is their home. The mushroom, which is God, can also be an end.

It costs too much to be alive. I should sell everything I own. But I find myself tied to the memories lodged in physical objects. The loveseat is not comfortable, but it was my grandmother’s, and I loved her. The television is unnecessary, but it carries the shows that carried me in the tough spots. And the lamp that I haggled down to $6 at the thrift store just ties the room together so well. These aren’t me; the trail is what I want. Comfort, or freedom? Scratchy eyes, or dehydration? Which one is God, and which one is something else completely? And is it possible that they are all the same?

There is a nearly-complete deer skeleton lying among the sycamores. We find a femur first, then the skull, and slowly, the whole animal snaps into place. The mandible still has teeth, and the skull is clean. Insides facing out. The remnants of a life cycle completed and burrowing back into the forest.

We have not found any mushrooms today, and the flowers are hardly out yet. The tree we thought was an elm turns out to be a cottonwood, and the sycamore where I found my first morel the year before does not have any today. This is fine. This skeleton is an equal treasure.

What remains when enough afternoons pass, when enough mushrooms edge up through the soil and shrink again, when enough semesters come and go, when enough relationships start and end and start and end and start and end and fizzle slowly into selfhood, is the perfect interlocking vertebrae and the bones weathered down by millennia to function exactly as they need to, and then, when it’s time, to lie in the forest until they are found, or until they disappear.

This, also, is God.

Sarahmarie Specht-Bird (she/her) is an English teacher, long-distance hiker, and aspiring writer originally from the Cincinnati, Ohio area. She holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language and an MA in Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies from Northern Arizona University. Her writing explores themes related to place, nature, travel, and finding one’s path in a world full of options. While not hiking or writing, she can probably be found with a crochet hook in hand.