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  • Jennifer Jewell





They are in your garden by the billions, they are in your food, in your house, and all over your skin. They partner us in all we do and they make all that we do well possible to start with. This week on Cultivating Place, we’re joined by author Eugenia Bone to talk more about her own foray into better understanding the world of microbia. It’s a focus that is expanding for us all.


A few years back now, I was working with my partner on putting together a traveling natural history exhibit entitled "Mushrooms: Keys to the Kingdom Fungi", an visual overview to the world of mushrooms through the lens of the common seasonal mushrooms of our region. As luck would have it, a new book entitled "Mycophilia", by Eugenia Bone was published at around the same time. It's a wonderful narrative, exploring not only the world of fungi but also the world of people who are smitten with them - including Bone.

When I was told by a mutual friend that Eugenia had written a new book "Microbia, A Journey into the Unseen World Around You" (Rodale, 2018), I was intrigued. After all, microbes are part and parcel of all life in the garden.

Any gardener worth her or his salt, any cook trying to prepare tasty healthy food, any parent trying to grow healthy, happy children knows that we work hand in hand with forces beyond our own sight certainly and more importantly beyond our own comprehension in many cases – yeasts and molds, bacteria and mycorrhiza, are all somewhere in there together in my own limited view. We know these forces are there – but may not have a clear and firm understanding of how, why, where or when. For the chemists and physicists and microbiologists and other hard scientists among us, the comprehension and curiosity goes far deeper. But most of us garden variety people, are, in my experience, content enough to accept these relationships between us and the unseen as there, but a little mystical.

This was not quite enough for science and food writer Eugenia Bone. Having begun her journey into understanding mycology (the study of fungi) and then written the book "Mycophilia" (which literally means the Love of Fungi), she became - along the way - “entranced” with the microbes.

She joins us for our conversation from Argot Studios in New York City to share more about her journey into this world and the writing of her newest book.

"I was overwhelmed when I first realized that microbes, and we’re talking about bacteria and her sister organism archaea are the bridge between the living and the non-living world. What they do is they capture nutrition from inorganic sources like the atmosphere and rocks and they terrestrialize it in themselves - they are the bottom of the food chain. They link what lives with what doesn’t live. That to me was revelation #1 of hundreds. I didn’t realize that bacteria oxygenated our atmosphere. It was a revelation to me that microbial life changes something as grand as the atmosphere around the planet. I didn’t realize that it was a marriage of microbes that produced the cell type that we are,

that pants are and that fungi are."”

Eugenia Bone

Eugenia’s human curiosity about the world of microbes is compelling to me right from the start. Early in our conversation she delves into: “how the unseen world plays a major role in the seen world. There’s more to life than meets the eye.”

As a gardener, I’m hooked.

As gardeners and nature lovers, I think we’re naturally open to the joys of discovery –that are constantly gifted to us as a result of this love and engagement. But science and food writer Eugenia Bone might take this joy of discovery to the next level. Throughout the book, and in her our conversation, she shares with us her own sometimes challenging adventure returning to university to study microbes. The revelations – social, scientific and philosophical come fast and furious.

"Micbrobia" is an exploration and celebration of the power and complexity and importance of microbes in every aspect of our lives. They are as Eugenia says with wonder: "a bridge between the living and the non-living world".

* * * * * * * *

In this week’s interview with Eugenia Bone talking about microbes, it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s listened along with me for a while now that the point- early in the conversation - at which she gets into the seen and unseen world and she says: there’s more to life than meets the eye – my skin kind of tingled.

I love and believe in and advocate for the garden as this intersectional space – literally and spiritually – for faith and food, beauty and meaning. And powerful good in this world. To have a clearer understanding of some of the unseen elements – and to once again have something of a blind spot illuminated is one of the best parts of this life long relationship with the nature and the garden and the garden and its nature.

It also really resonated when Eugenia uses the analogy of the Russian Nesting dolls – I thought YES that’s it exactly - opening upon upon, deepening our understanding. OR, like the golden mean spiraling into perfect relationship and reflected back at us in all of the garden’s life.

At another point in this conversation Eugenia talks about how microbes do not operate in their lives with the same understanding of boundaries and delineations as we do. To them, the soil and the plants are all the same. Which is kind of crazy cool when you really stop and think about it. I talk about this idea of boundaries and delineations – between us and our gardens, our gardens and the world and back again in the May View From here Newsletter.

The energetic boundaries of our lives – as seen through the lens of our home gardens is interesting to me – where we keep them well, where they might need some establishing or maybe ever some dismantling.

Happy May!

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