Optopia Issue #5: The Mushroom Issue (January 2023)

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Issue 5 | Winter 2023 THE


When we talk about the environment, we cannot ignore the fact that we are living on land that does not belong to us, land that was forcibly taken by white settlers who then committed genocide on the tribes who once lived there. It can be easy for solarpunk and other environmental activism to fall into familiar colonizer pathways of thought and ideas and we want to push back against that. Our staff is scattered across the U.S. and we acknowledge the people whose land we live on.

The Piscataway Conoy tribe, who can be found at piscatawaytribe.org.

The St. Croix Chippewa, who can be found at stcroixojibwe-nsn.gov.

The Kiikaapoi, or Kickapoo, who can be found at www.ktik-nsn.gov.

The Kaskaskia people, who are now part of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and can be found at peoriatribe.com.

The Osage nation, who can be found at osagenation-nsn.gov.

The Ochethi Sakowin confederacy, who can be found at sdpb.org/learn/nativeamerican/oceti.

The Tsalaguwetiyi or Eastern Cherokee, who can be found at ebci.com/.

The Uchee, or Yuchi, tribe, whose Savannah River Band can be found at srbeucheetribe.org.

The Muscogee, or Creek Confederacy, who can be found at muscogeenation.com.

The Shawnee tribe, who can be found at shawnee-nsn.gov.

The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, who consisted of the Mohawk (mbq-tmt.org), the Cayuga (cayuganation-nsn.gov), the Seneca (sni.org), the Oneida (oneidaindiannation.com), the Onondaga (onondaganation.org), and the Tuscarora (tuscaroras.com).

We used native-land.ca to find out whose land we live on.


EDITORS: Jeremy Baker, Meira Datiya, Rifka Handelman, Moss Washington STAFF ARTISTS/WRITERS: Meira Datiya LAYOUT DIRECTOR: Rifka Handelman

op•to•pi•a (noun): A place in between a utopia and a dystopia. Not a perfect world, but an achievable one—the best possible world we can create given the circumstances.

so•lar•punk (noun): An aesthetic, science fiction, and social justice movement centered around the environment, nature, and a hope for a sustainable future.



Our deepest apologies to readers and contributors for taking so long to release this issue. To be utterly honest, it’s quite difficult to run a volunteer-only magazine with a small team. We’re all students, workers, and people with liives. It’s a balance we’re still working on and figuring out along the way. We truly appreciate you all bearing with us.

Due to the difficulties that have come up with producing this zine, Optopia will be shifting to a collective model. We and you will be able to share solarpunk projects, art, and ideas in a way that makes less work for us, the staff. We’re still setting up how it will work, and busy overhauling our Discord server, so please stay tuned for more from us. We’ve shut down our Patreon for now. All issues will still be available to view, don’t worry!

You can find us on OpenCollective at https://opencollective.com/optopia-collective

Thanks for bearing with us.

CONNECT WITH US And keep an eye on our future plans for the collective! optopiazine optopia-zine | www.optopia-zine.tumblr.com Optopia_Project OptopiaZine@climatejustice.social https://discord.gg/KJcd4XxZA4 5
CONTENTS Land Acknowledgment Definitions Announcement Connect With Us Mushroom Forest / Sonecta The Mushroom Farmers’ Network / Sarena Ulibarri 2 3 4 5 8 10 6
Fair Weather / Ning Chen Where the Body Becomes an Ecosystem / Shannon Taylor-Jones Mushrooms / MC Hathaway Little Small World / Mplossart Myco Macro / Brightflame Mushroom Forest / Sonecta Myco Macro cont. Mushroom Forest / Sonecta Contributors 12 14 18 19 20 23 24 26 28 7


/ 8


If you thought there wouldn’t be drama amongst a bunch of mushroom farmers, let me tell you something: you thought wrong.

We don’t actually grow mushrooms— well, except for Xavier, who has that big warehouse full of buttons and portobellos. But we call ourselves mushroom farmers because we all use a mycorrhizal network on our farms, plus this fungi-based fertilizer that really slaps. The network lets all the plants basically talk to each other, regulate their own nutritional needs. It revolutionized the way we grow, made everything stronger, more interconnected, more resilient. And I thought for a while that our community was like that, too. It was, until the soft robotics boom started.

It seemed like a good thing, at first. Some megacorp bought up a bunch of old industrial buildings and started churning out origamibots and bird drones. They’re working on stuff like this badass robotic squid that can help restore coral reefs, and prosthetic limbs that make Luke Skywalker’s hand look old school. With so many new scientists and such moving into our area, us local farmers found ourselves faced with a much higher demand for food than we were used to.

One of the restaurants I usually sell to needed some produce I didn’t have, so they

went to Addison’s farm. And, look, I promise I didn’t even get bugged about it. But after Addison came to tell me about it, we decided that if we were going to reduce competition and conflict under these new circumstances, then we needed to form an official organization. All the local farmers could work together more efficiently that way, she said.

Only, it didn’t work.

Because we started off as just a group of friends who shared seeds and gardening hacks, but if we’re becoming a big organization, then someone has to make the decisions. So we put it to a vote, who would be our leader. And, big surprise: practically everyone voted for themselves. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of it, too.

After a lot of arguing, both online and in person, the group split into two camps. We had those who wanted Addison to be the leader, and those who wanted me.

See, Addison was the one who brought the mycorrhizal network into our community, after she’d learned how it worked while interning at a big farm in California. A lot of people consider that a cornerstone of what we do, and they’re not wrong. But me? I was the one who revamped a dying old monoculture farm into a thriving perma-


culture food forest, and I was the one who convinced all those restaurants and grocery stores to source locally in the first place.

Addison’s got degrees in horticulture and food science from UC Davis, and she made a big deal about the fact that I learned everything I know from YouTube and opensource online classes. It’s true, but I don’t think her credentials should outweigh my experience.

Things got pretty heated as we tried to sway the others over to our side. Then Xavier said he wasn’t going to vote between two white women because he didn’t think either of us truly represented him. And I got lowkey offended that he assumed I was a woman, and Addison got high-key offended that everyone thought she was white.

The whole thing kind of fell apart from there.

To be honest, I don’t even want to be in charge of the Mushroom Club, or whatever we’re going to call ourselves. I just want my voice to be heard. I want to know that my experience is valued. Addison’s still so new to this, and she’s all about those automated systems that not all of us can afford to

install. I don’t want to see everything I built get compromised just to fit the demands of the market.

We’re supposed to be permaculturists, but that whole “people care” ethic broke down the second we had a little capitalist pressure. Just because a corporation took over our town doesn’t mean they get to turn us into corporate goons, too. So the town grew faster than we could keep up with. We can scale up. We just need some time to do it mindfully. Our collective wellbeing is more important than a fully-stocked store shelf.

Before our next meeting tomorrow, I think I’ll talk to Addison one-on-one. See if she’ll agree to drop this whole vote. Maybe we do need to be more organized, but we need something like a committee, not a monarch. All by ourselves, neither one of us would represent the entire community well, and I think she knows that, too. We need all of our parts to make a healthy whole. A mutually beneficial network is what will move us forward in a healthier way. Everyone in the group should understand that.

We are mushroom farmers, after all.





Exploring the interdependencies of life, decay, and grief as biological and creative processes. Existing as the layered (un)domestication of interwoven life forms and as fragments of larger pro-

cesses. Through collaborations of care, the inevitability of transience remains; detritus as the answer to one question and the ask of another.





Those little bodies, the elves— as Emily called them—are the sign of life persevering.

How can’t they be when they eat through anything & give us so much in return?

Our stomachs are nourished, our air is clean, & “untouchables” ate up the toxins of the past.

Why shouldn’t we allow them to grow on sidewalks & in parks when they do a lot for us?

We breathe better—our lungs alive—& have clean energy because of those “little elves.”

And I thank them every day— like today, after frying them in butter & eating on a warm day.



Melli treasured the delicate book cradled in their lap as they sat between Bur Oak’s massive roots that ran along the ground like muscled limbs before plunging into the ground. The elder Guardian whose lichen-covered bark practically glowed at dusk might have existed in the time their foremother mused about life in this written memory. Melli hadn’t known of the book until Grand-elder Kat handed it to them yesterday and told of its provenance.

Surely they only imagined the smell of mugwort emanating from its pages, pressed there some six generations back. A time of wood pulp and fabric paper, a time before the Crumble, before most humans communicated with forest. And yet it seemed this foremother had.

Today we nine met in the woods behind the strip mall. Few go there, had it to ourselves in the late afternoon. Fall chill in the air. Soon I’d

need skis, but decrepit knees protest too much for cross-country. We circled near the largest oak we’ve found. Over a century??! It’s surviving amidst youngsters. Asked permission to communicate. No sense of being pushed away like from the slender birches last time, so we extended our auras in greeting. It’s so neat to get messages. The tree misses extensive forest and other old ones like itself. Feels depleted as it strives to share resources and counter air pollutants. Of course, we thanked it for cleansing the air as best it could and sang as we circled, raising energy that this tree, these woods may thrive. But, argh, the anemic woods here don’t feel “thriving.” Still, we can hope.

Calling Guardians “it” stabbed Melli’s heart. Hard to imagine a time before all living beings were known as kin. Before most


humans spoke with and collaborated with forest for all to thrive. Melli could feel the Crumble looming in the words of this foremother.

What was a strip mall? The term reeked of violence like stripping resources, acts that led to ecosystem and infrastructure collapse. Melli shivered.

They ran a hand along the book’s cloth binding as if to glean more about the writer and the time. They had never heard of this foremother or the book. Grand-elder Kat wouldn’t answer questions, only shared the tradition: pass the book to a descendant without interpretation. And that they sensed it was time to hand the book to Melli.

Why now? Had Grand-elder sensed Melli’s turmoil? Their struggle choosing a path as all their node siblings had: one a story gatherer, one maintaining the turbines, two tending crops, one a kelp farmer. Melli didn’t want to farm, or sail, or maintain their tech, or any of the usual specialties. They wanted to distinguish themself—become a story, not tell stories. Melli’s neck and cheeks grew hot, the creep of shame as if others witnessed this confession. No way would they admit that they cared more about uniqueness and less about finding a way to be of service in their node. But why couldn’t they find both?

With slow, deep breaths, Melli dispersed their thoughts as if they were clouds. They resettled within Bur Oak’s expansive energy and opened the book to a random page, a divination of sorts. Guidance from the distant past.

Mushroom hunting the scrub woods was fruitful today, pun intend-

ed. Chanterelles seem to have an affinity for oak. Gathered a basketful of these lovelies whose golden ribbed flares make them easy to spot against dark soil and leaf litter. Maybe these fungi sense oak and cluster around. Taste perhaps? Sent my roots into the ground and talked with the organism. Indeed, they dance around oak roots, tasting and sharing. When full of carbs, they release their fruit upward, fulfilling procreation. But like trees, the fungi are pressured to survive in smaller and smaller tracts. So much pavement, so little green. They are curtailed. Breaks my heart. They circle around the area, gathering and sharing what they can. Stressed. They are glad for my attention. Don’t we all enjoy being noticed? First step to developing a relationship.

It was as if this foremother heard Melli’s secret: yes, they wanted to be noticed. But the way this ancestor cast the words didn’t feel terrible, didn’t feel like something to be ashamed of.

And what of fungi? Melli had never communicated with them directly. They spoke with the Guardians and the overall forest. Everyone did. But they’d never singled out the fungi. Melli dug their fingertips into soil and mind-spoke. “Fungi? I am Mellinote of the humans, living here in Bur Oak Node on First Thread.” They visualized the nodes of community clustered as Threads, connecting to other Threads on this sea-carved land, an aid for fungi to place human relationship with this land. “Will you speak with me?”


Moistness. Crumbles of soil and stone. Decay. But no clear communication. Melli picked another random page.

The coven met at the lake. Mia brought a new way to sense energy and allies: pull our attention into our heads, drop it down through our bodies to our guts, then open it wide, beyond the edges of our physical selves. It was like seeing from my gut. New eyes. Wider field of vision. Bits of the unseen coming into view. We tried sending our attention below our feet, into the ground, and then open it. Wow, the rock people shared. Ancient. And the mycorrhizal network had us shooting outwards like brain synapses sparking in a glorious web.

Ah, the myco network. They were part of overall forest communication, though discussion seemed always to be canopy view, the Guardians as spokespeople. To communicate with the Guardians, Melli would relax their brow, relax their head, feel their energy field open, and pop into connection as if merging with forest. But here was a different method.

Melli drew their attention inward. On a breath, they floated it down to their heart, down to the base of their spine, and into the ground below. They breathed their attention open like an expanding disk. “Myco. Kin. Will you tell me of your life? Of your view of forest?”

Melli poured into the network below the ground as if they’d melted into the mat of hair-like fibers. Sticky. They ran between the boulders that were tiny grains of soil,

alongside whale-like worms, dipping into tiny pools of water that were large as lakes. Hugging tree roots like lovers, exchanging fluids, impulses, desires. Opening to the roots. More, more. The delight of sugar spreading through them. More, more. Dissolving soil and orgasming out the tang of iron into the roots to coax more sugar.

Moving away from the roots to a delicious area. A puddle of sweet. Lingering here in delight. A substance melting down into them along with acrid components. Sugars. Metals. Salts. Taste of ocean. More sugars. So full, so energized, ecstatic. Pulsing excess to kin, distributing sustenance through the fibrous web. Arrows of particular chemical sent to particular beloveds, a return of energy as acknowledgment.

Melli shot back into their body. Whew, such richness. How long had they been immersed in that connection? They rubbed their arms and patted their thighs. The precious book had fallen to the side, and they picked it up and hugged it. “Thank you, kin,” they said to the mycorrhizal network. They stood and placed their palm on the Guardian in thanks, and a pulse of warmth traveled up their arm to their heart.

At the Hive, they sat with two node kin, enjoying the land and sea vegetable sauté, ground walnuts added for texture. Melli nodded and smiled as the two shared their trip to a nearby Thread.

Gehv joined them for dessert. “Melli, where did you disappear to? Weren’t you going to pick berries with us?”

Melli put down their forkful of blueberry crisp. “Sorry, I lost track of time.”

“Didn’t mean to pull you from enjoying dessert.” Gehv nodded at Melli’s bowl.




Melli weighed the delicious crisp on their fork and ate it. “Had an adventure.” They spoke of connecting with the myco, though held the visceral details close as if they might dissipate.

“Aren’t they part of forest? Part of the network when we connect with the Guardians?”

“Yes. But this was different. I connected just with the myco, not through the trees.”

Bezri sipped their mint tea. “I’ve connected separately with Bur Oak. Haven’t you spoken with just one being?”

“Sure, with trees and some plants,” Melli said. “This was like a different channel using a different receiver in my body. A very different point of view. I feel like it will lead me to my primary path.”

“Interesting,” Gehv said. “A fungi talker. Fungi are part of our food and energy tech, but I’ve not heard of anyone communicating directly with them.The Guardians have always directed us towards symbiotic relationships.”

Melli smiled as the sense of a path glittered, wanting to be explored.

The next day, after scrubbing pots in the Hive and feeding table scraps to the chickens, they wandered through forest towards the ocean. Conifer needles coated the spongy ground, and their astringent citrus notes wafted through the air. They sat under a young pine whose branches draped gracefully overhead, the sssh-ahh of the surf nearby. With knees drawn up, palms and feet flat on the ground, Melli announced themself to the myco and sent their attention into the soil.

They shot out across the fibers like a blazing star, fractals blooming, expansive,

blazing node to node, connecting with other beings, with all the roots, the microbes, the different fungal varieties. They jumped from species to species, sensing colors, tasting sustenance, pulsing nutrients, traveling in all directions until: a jolt. Hard stop. The myco pushed, but could go no further. They flew back along the expansive network, sampling the energy of the green who rose above ground: trees, shrubs, plants. The orgasmic sensation of blooming, fruiting upward. The tickle of air flowing over their moist newborn shapes.

Jumping across a gap to a different myco kin, they flowed through the web, then punctured into a plant root, merging cells with cells, becoming part of the other organism, absorbing their energy and sharing from their stores. The euphoric sensation of bonding, becoming brighter energy.

They traveled back along the expansive network, blooming through sensations that were like desire, like embracing kin, like birthgiving, like breathing with another, like yelping with glee, like a restorative, like soaking up sunshine. They flashed from point to point, ecstatic, wild. They were a spark of energy flowing through this web, creating more sparks that spread from them in waves. As they abandoned to this web, it phosphoresced, a twilit show of yellows, blues, greens, pinks, pulsing, changing. Each color a combination of chemicals shared.

They lapped up the sensations that flowed through and around them.

Back to the area of dense sweetness. Distinct taste of ocean. Rushing back to the hard stop. Twice more: sweet with notes of ocean, the jolt of the end of forest. Then, a


push back to their body as if the myco expelled them.

With difficulty, they emerged from the euphoric experience. Melli slid to the side and lay on the soft ground, eyes closed. Grounding themself back into physical form. Connection with the Guardians was so much more cerebral than this. As expansive and intuitive as it was, it came more as words and image-language.

And what was that zigzag, the last part of the journey. The pool of nectar, then abrupt jag to a line that could not be crossed. The fresh salt smell of ocean rose through them carrying a note of sweet.

Melli sat up, eyes wide. By the stars! The myco had asked for more kelp. The sea vegetable that was really algae was a mainstay in the Hive for fiber, carbs, minerals, aminos, salts. And farmers always offered some to the land before taking it for humans—the same nutrients for trees and soil. Melli would assure the myco had plenty of dessert.

Melli donned this role like a star-blazed wrap: they were a fungi communicator. They would tend them and share their messages with other kin. They radiated with pride.

Melli pulled the old book from their sack, unwrapped its protective wax cloth, and placed their palm on its cover. They sat for a few breaths, eyes closed. What will be their foremother’s response?

It’s evident that the Web of Life is dynamic, and we are all interconnected. They say we’re amidst mass extinction. Here, in my corner of the world, I look around and feel it. The hemlock trees succumbed to the wooly adelgid years back. Now, we’ve lost all the ash to a borer. Some

sort of weird invasive worm is sterilizing the soil. And yet! As I walk the pockets of forest that remain, the mycorrhizal network meets my footfalls, urges me to open, dances with me. They remind me they are not so fragile that I can’t walk in the forest. They remind me of the resilience they foster, the ash seeds in the ground that they nurture so ash trees will grow tall again. Mycorrhizae are the largest organisms on Earth—I just read that somewhere. They mirror the macro: the whole Web of Life. Were it not for the vast micro—the myco!—the Web would not support life.

Melli grinned and said aloud, “Exactly, foremother. Hail our myco kin!”





Sonecta (cover art) is a painter in early twenties trying to figure stuff out. (◍•ᴗ•◍) instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonecta_/

Sarena Ulibarri is a writer and editor living in the American Southwest. Her solarpunk fiction has appeared in magazines such as DreamForge and GigaNotoSaurus, as well as anthologies such as And Lately, The Sun and Sunshine Superhighway. She is the editor behind the Glass and Gardens anthologies from World Weaver Press. Find more at www. SarenaUlibarri.com or follow her on Twitter @sarenaulibarri

Shannon Taylor-Jones is an emerging interdisciplinary artist working in Toronto and London, Ontario. She is a current resident artist at Good Sport, an art collective, gallery, and studio space in London, Ontario. Her website is shannontaylorjones.com and her Instagram is @staylorjonesart.

MC Hathaway is a writer based in Arizona and Alaska. They are currently working towards their Bachelor’s degree in English.

Mplossart always loved drawing and started going to art afternoon activities when she was 5 years old. Since then she never really did put down the pen for long. After school she gave digital art a try but soon realized that her passion lies with traditional art and thus, her latest passion is watercolor art. Recently, she finally decided to turn her passion into her main profession through her Etsy print shop. She draws inspiration from her love for nature and what beauty it gifts us as well as portrait photography. This connection represents the peace and joy being in beautiful and preferably untouched nature gifts her. You can find her at linktr.ee/mplossart

BrightFlame (she/they) writes, teaches, and makes magic in service to a just, regenerating world. Two stories and an essay will appear in forthcoming anthologies (2023). She’s known for her teaching in the worldwide pagan community and is affiliated with a sustainability education center at Columbia University. She lives on Lenape territory with a human, a forest, turtles, fungi, and many other nonhumans. Find her doodles and musings at http:// brightflame.com and @BrtFlame on Twitter.

Unsplash photographers in this issue pg. 2 @kolossaphoto pg. 8 @b_elena pg. 10 @odamire pg. 14 @ sindy_vonundzu_blitzdings pg. 18 @avgt27199 pg. 19 @jxk pg. 20 @benhoftijzer pg. 27 @themiraclemuse pg. 28 @maurosauro back cover @zhenhu2424 29


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