I see the cockpit of spaceship forest...
I see the cockpit of spaceship forest... Charles Mudede

This is the third of four notes for my feature on forest bathing in Cheasty Greenspace.

Whenever I enter a forest, I always feel like an astronaut entering an ancient spaceship. One whose systems and workings were familiar to astronauts in the land before time. Such was the plant kingdom’s journey from life-rich oceans to barren and rocky land. It was like going from Earth to one of the moons of Jupiter. And they succeeded, and they eventually transported us from a water-world to this new and strange one where the sea in our bodies became much like the atmosphere in an astronaut's tank.

Now recall the late and great biologist Lynn Margulis, the scientist who showed the world that chloroplasts and mitochondria, micro-machines found in eukaryotic cells (cells with a nucleus—bacteria don’t have a nucleus and so are called prokaryotes), evolved of free-living bacteria. She wrote in her book Symbiotic Planet that the spaceship on the TV show Star Trek is unrealistic because it’s so sterile, so clean, so unlike a forest.

“If people ever journey for extended periods in outer space,” she wrote, “the endeavor will never be as machinate and barren as Star Trek. The vision of sterile engineering emancipating us from our planet-mates is not only tasteless and boring, it borders on the hideous. No matter how much our own species preoccupies us, life is a far wider system. Life is an incredibly complex interdendence of matter and energy among millions of species beyond (and within ) our own skin… Without ‘the other’ we do not survive....”

To be human is to be others, because only through others (plants, viruses, bacteria) are humans realized. There is no line between us and not us. The human is a process of going through the woods, through the oxygen released by leaves, through the ambience of bacteria, through the mud that is life-rich with death.

This is why it’s more realistic to see a forest as a spaceship than one of those rockets made by NASA or Jeff Bezos. The better way of imagining a trip to a star is grass growing on the instrument panel, a branch that's pulled re-positioning a ship’s leaf-like solar panels, and a piece of bark that's pressed like a button that opens an airlock, and sticking one's finger in a blue flower to activate the ship's hyperdrive function.