Portraits of a Neighborhood’s ‘Wood Wide Web’

Sometimes, mature douglas firs send sugar to saplings via miles of underground, gossamer-thin mycorrhizal fungi. Through these same passageways (the “Wood Wide Web”) birches can loan carbon to fir trees in the summer, while firs pay it back in fall. And trees of different species might share nitrogen leached out of salmon carcasses left over from a bear’s lunch.

When the pandemic hit, photographer Andres Gonzalez retreated to his home in Vallejo, north of the San Francisco Bay. He started devouring novels, including Richard Powers’ climate epic The Overstory, which was inspired partly by the forest ecologist Suzanne Simard’s research on mycorrhizal networks. On long walks, Gonzalez began photographing redwoods in his neighborhood. To him, the trees, standing alone outside the braided forest, looked sick and isolated. But he knew that even these suburbanite Sequoia sempervirens survived in part thanks to the prodigious webs between them, some directly connected across adjoining lawns, and others, blocks apart, likely using the root systems of maples, laurels, yews—even ferns and herbs—as links, lifelines beneath our made world.

In January, Gonzalez’s 90-year-old grandmother tested positive for Covid. She was soon hospitalized, and the doctor recommended that the family prepare to say their goodbyes. Thirty of his grandmother’s saplings from Mexico to Sunnyvale gathered on Zoom, atoning, joking, praying. A nurse’s “blue latex fingers occasionally floated into the frame to touch her, the surrogate for all of us,” Gonzalez says. His grandmother survived. And now when Gonzalez thinks of the way they all pooled into her room via buried fiber optic, he also thinks of the way isolated trees aren’t really isolated.

Photographs by Andres Gonzalez


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