Before he died of AIDS in1992, the botanist Jim Hickman and I loved to wander in the redwoods around the Northern California coast, searching for fungi emerging from old trees and forest duff and for trilliums blooming in early Spring. Jim was a naturalist of the old school, passionate about the natural world and especially the tiny, hidden wonders that people like myself might never even notice. His academic work focused on the mycelial web beneath the ground that connects the roots of every tree in the forest, making of them one single organism—but he was professionally scorned for his conclusions. 

“It’s a web, see?” he told me one day, prying a bit of intricate, delicate root hairs off a larger root, “interconnected and whole—like us.” It looked like a bit of brown lace, smelling richly of earth. “We only think trees are separate in the forest, but in fact, they are really a single organism with many parts, see?”

He confessed to me one day that his ideas had been jokingly referred to as “Gay science” by some reductionist colleagues who considered it soft-minded science. I stamped my foot and gave him a hug.

“I just want to finish work on this damned last project while I still can,” he told me sadly, “until my body gives out, and then I can leave.”

“I don’t want you to leave.…” I remember mumbling.

But, in time he did just that. I so wish he were still here to know that his work was not in vain and that at last it is time for these radical ideas to be welcomed, even embraced by a new generation of biologists with more open minds. It is, after all, long past time to shift the template of science from a narrow focus on isolated bits of the natural world, to a larger vision of how everything is connected and whole.

I am sure he would be relieved to know that the web of inter-connections on multiple levels in the natural world are finally being professionally recognized as real. And that the multi-dimensional web is more and more accepted as a model of how the world actually works; and even more, that in the tiny filaments of this invisible web—the fungal web—the patterns of the large world are writ small. Everything is connected to everything, whether we can see it or not. As above, so below, as Jim would say.

Oh Jim, you got it right then, and paid the price for being ahead of your time. I so wish you were here to witness this quiet revolution, but maybe you are watching it happen from wherever you are. I’d like to think we are watching it happen together…

I was at Jim’s bedside when he died, along with his life-partner, Joe, and his close friend, Susan. Gasping out his final words to us, he whispered, “My bags are packed, and I’m ready to go.” I held my breath until he added, “I can see God and She is pleased!”

He died with his eyes wide open and still bright, and our last response to him was laughter.

Oh, this unique and precious friend we were losing…

About a year after his death, I consulted a psychic that a friend recommended, who claimed to make contact with those gone on, and I asked her to make contact with Jim. I had no idea if this was trustworthy, but why not try? I wanted to know where he was and how he was doing. She asked me for his name. That was all she needed, she told me, and she would do the rest.

“I see him teaching,” she told me, “beneath a tree. He is talking about plants and their roots and is surrounded by other souls listening closely. Does that ring a bell for you?”

Rather stunned, I whispered, “It does…” She described the group as ‘students’ and explained that souls ready to “come back to the Earth plane” were learning about the botanical needs of the planet they were preparing for. I held my breath. How could she know?

Of course our Jim would be taking on such a task, and of course the timing of his leave-taking would coincide with what was needed on Earth. Oh, Jim…Is that true for every person who dies young? I wondered.

I recalled the time, out on the beach together at Point Reyes, when he picked up the tiniest piece of shell and told me in detail about the life that had once occupied it, and then he handed me his binoculars and told me to look at the ocean waves through them. “Small perspective, and then the large…” he murmured as the bubbles in a curling wave seemed about to crash over me.

Or the time he knelt down by a rock covered with lichen and moss, and a tiny fern sprouting from a bit of humus lodged in it. “See that tiny bit of soil?” he pointed out, fingering the fern gently to the side, and then told me how plants came to inhabit the earth—the evolution of a green planet. His enthusiasm for plant life was infectious and I was totally infected—still am.

Oh Jim, I still miss you.

So it is with so much excitement and pleasure that I have come upon the new generation’s version of a plant scientist in love with the natural world! Young Merlin Sheldrake is taking up the charge with his first book, Entangled Life, and this time, people are listening!

And he is not alone, because more young and impassioned folks are picking up the baton and committing their efforts to the many webs and interconnections in the natural—and human society’s—worlds, many of them recognizing that the template is indeed writ large and small “in Heaven, as it is on Earth.”

He lets us know that the existence of mycelia, mostly hidden out of our sight, are essential for our existence, and we remain ignorant of them at our peril. He does not pull punches, nor does he hide from criticism, but lets us know this with graceful humor and limitless imagination—just like the fungi themselves.

I am so happy that people everywhere are reading Entangled Life and are talking about it, and buying mycelial kits to grow mushrooms in the kitchen. And recognizing that the fungal web functions as a model of how the whole world works, showing how everything is interconnected with everything on every level of the world, and that every single root hair has a function to the Whole.

There is no waste in Nature, is what we learn from the fungal world, and mutuality of form and function are basic to all existence on our planet. If it is true for plant life, and it is true for animal life, then it is true for human life and it is true for the Earth’s life. Our common ancestors are these creepy crawlies mostly invisible underground, with weird habits and silently powerful intent to keep it all together, whether we humans realize it or not.

I love that what we call the World Wide Web brings this news to all of us everywhere at the same time and that, like the mycelia, the word gets out and spreads, linking us all together in a web of interconnection and intention whether we are paying attention, or not.

Merlin Sheldrake—like Jim—is showing us that we live in a thrilling game, a gorgeous work, a spectacular art show full of beauty and mutual astonishment! This was the world Jim knew and loved, But he also knew the pain of being derided for his knowledge… sigh… but that is unfortunately what tends to happen to the forerunners of evolution. It is not so easy to be one who can see a bit further on the horizon, a bit ahead of the pack with a somewhat wider view-finder because, as a friend told me recently, she felt too alone with her knowledge.

It is a lonely bit of beach to stand on, yes.

Jim was one of those ahead of his time and Merlin comes in on Jim’s heels, not a moment too soon, I believe. The new ones are growing up fast somewhere in the world and the next wave of humans is being born as we speak.

I wager that Jim will come back soon, however that happens—if he is not here already—continuing his work and offering what he has learned, not only about the plants living on earth, but about we humans who so fear changing our minds to new knowledge when it is presented to us.

Patience does not come easily to me, sorry to say, especially as I approach the end of my life. But then again, I do not have to do it all; the next generation is in, and brilliant!

“Not to worry,” I hear Jim whisper to me through the ethers. “You don’t have to do more than you’ve done, except pass the baton. The rest of us are waiting for it, having a good party as we watch the show and getting ready to jump in when it’s time to jump.

Anyhow, I can hear him tease, it’s a much bigger picture than you can imagine, so don’t assume you actually know what’s coming next, okay?

But…we really had a good time, didn’t we?

See you later, alligator…

see you soon, dear big baboon…