What did you do yesterday? How about the day before that? For that matter, do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning? Memory can be a pretty tricky thing, don’t you think?
Do you remember last weekend? Felix Baumgartner dropped from outer space and landed safely on earth. Watch baseball? Cal Ripken played in 2,632 consecutive games for the Baltimore Orioles. His first was in 1982. We just landed a remote rover on the surface of Mars. Our first shot at the moon was the remote satellite Ranger 3, which missed by 22,000 miles. That was in 1962.
Some of us have been around to see many of these things. Saw a thing on YouTube the other day about a guy on a game show who was in the theater the night Lincoln was shot. Here in Virginia you may run into Harrison Tyler. His grandfather, John Tyler, was the 10th President, serving before Lincoln. History can also be a pretty tricky thing.
And what if you were able to witness a few centuries of history?
There is a stand of trees in Utah called “Pando.” They are called “quaking aspen,” and reproduce through a process called “clonal propogation.” A small shoot will take off from the main root system, and when it gets far enough away it grows skyward, effectively making a new tree. The average age of a quaking aspen is about 80 years, which is pretty good in tree years, and the grove is about 47,000 trees spread out across a little over 100 acres. But here’s where it gets really tricky:
Because the trees are all connected by a single root system, they are basically one big organism. And by using clonal propogation, they can continue to thrive after things like drought and forest fire. So conservative estimates put the age of this grove at about 80,000 years. They have been here since the wooly mammoth and saber-toothed cats. They’ve been here, in fact, longer than humans.
And then there’s the Bristlecone pine, considered to be the oldest individual living organism. They grow in five or six Western states, and are, quite honestly, not much to look at. At first glance, they seem kind of dead, but the leaves alone can hang on for decades. Scientists started taking core samples in the 1950’s, allowing them to count the rings and date the trees without killing them. They found trees that were 800 years old, 1,000 years old, and dating to the birth of Christ. That’s pretty old. In 1964, an intrepid young researcher decided to find the oldest among the bristlecone pines, and systematically began taking samples of all of the trees. He found many that were older than the previous records, and then his coring tool broke. He whipped out a saw and cut down the gnarliest bristlecone he could find, and started counting rings. He counted 4,862, making it the oldest living thing ever on record.
The tree that he lopped down was called Prometheus, named after the Greek god. The oldest bristlecone known to man is now Methuselah, a sprightly 4,844 years young. This is a tree that has been here for the birth of America, the painting of the Mona Lisa, the construction of the Coliseum, and the dream of the Great Pyramids. It’s seen a lot.
We have our fair share of old trees here in Virginia. There has been a great deal of discussion around the Commonwealth lately about Stadium Woods on the Virginia Tech campus. These are old growth white oaks that are as old as 250 years. That’s not as old as Methuselah, but still pretty old. They are in danger due to plans to build an athletic facility on the Tech campus. And once you cut them down they won’t see any more history.
One of the keys to Keep Virginia Beautiful is a respect for what we have. We’re not void of problems, but we have a beautiful state. Richmond was recently voted the Best River City in America. We have amazing beaches in Tidewater and along the Atlantic coast. The Shenandoah Valley has become a tourist draw with people coming from around the country to experience the family farms and vineyards that call it home. Mountains, valleys, streams and rivers; we have it all.
Lets hang on to it for a while.