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Biology

A Discovery of Bristlecones

Yesterday, we took a trip to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the high Sierra mountains, in California. The forest is home to thousands of Great Basin Bristlecone Pines (Pinus longaeva) the oldest living trees on Earth. The oldest, clocking in at 4,851 years old, is named Methuselah. 

The altitude of the forest is high, about 10,120 feet at the beginning of the trail through the grove. It is illegal for pilots to fly much higher without supplemental oxygen. As soon as I got out of the car, I was winded. I didn’t stop feeling winded until I was there for about an hour.

The trail is 4.8 miles long and it took more than 5 hours to walk it. There were a few primary obstacles. One is the fact that I am 57 and I don’t trail run anymore. The other is we were constantly stopped by awesome vistas and spectacular photographic opportunities. I took 353 photos – that is 73 photos for every mile walked. Seventy-three!

At every turn there was a spectacular tree – completely different from the rest. Each tree has a different personality and different shape. And there are thousands of them. And most are thousands of years old. There is one valley where all the bristlecone pines were older than Plato’s Republic.

All of these are older than Plato’s Republic.

A bristlecone pine is shaped and sculpted by environmental and geologic forces. Fire will strip away its bark and then 500-800 years later it will rebud new growth. Wind and fierce winter furies will bend and twist the the trees into alien shapes. The rocky, inhospitable alkaline soil will twist and gnarl the roots into complex spirals. The tree rings are so fine they are about as thick as a human hair and must be counted via a microscope. If you put your ear up to the tree and knock on the wood, the sound is an eerie mixture of echo and underwater acoustics. The feel of the wood is near rock solid – with no discernible give or flexibility. It might as well be rock.

Each tree is a different and amazing, nature-made Bonsai tree on a very large scale. My 73 photos per mile were not enough to document them all.

Lastly, I did find Methuselah, the oldest documented living tree on Earth – and She was glorious. She is the true Goddess of the Grove. For an old Druid like me, it is a wonder to behold. We took a bunch of photos and selfies, tree-hugged a bit, whispered to Her and accepted Her blessings of peace. I will never share these photos or share Her position. Her legacy must continue after me as she has stood the ages as well as Her siblings surrounding her. Because you know, there is always that one asshole.

The above photo is one that we dubbed ‘Butthuselah” for obvious reasons.

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