Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bristlecone Memorial

Born 306 AD - Died 2005 AD

I had the privilege of visiting two amazing National Parks this last month as a part of an extended visit to the St. George Art Museum for their Tuesday night Art conversations where I was honored by being asked to speak. On the way back from the talk, my wife and I camped in Zion and Bryce. When we sat through the presentations at the visitors centers, I couldn't help noticing the small mention of a nation of people dislocated from a place of such pristine beauty.

When we arrived in Bryce Canyon National Park and were planning the hikes we were going to go on during our stay there, I happened to notice a hike called the "Bristlecone Pine Loop". I have been fascinated by these amazing pines since my first discovery of them. The same thing happened to Robert Schuman when he discovered these amazing trees in a remote location of the California's White Mountains. In the toughest of growing conditions, the poorest soil and harshest weather, these little pines make their home. They almost seem to laugh in the face of adversity as they defy the odds and hang on. They will let half of the tree die off and keep a thin strip of living bark alive that connects the needles to the roots. Old Methusalaf in Schuman's Grove has survived to the ripe old age of over 4700 years old. The parks department has had the foresight to not tell visitors there which tree is the oldest, because even though it can survive everything that nature can throw at them, they are no match for the thoughtlessness of human nature. At the very end of the loop on one of the most exposed points stood a naked bristlecone, stripped of her life giving needles. I happened to notice that there was a forestry service plaque not far from this relatively young pine. I noticed in the picture on the plaque that there was a sizeable mass of dark green pine needles, which this tree happens to keep on the tree for up to 25 years as a way of conserving its limited resources. I made mention to my wife of my discovery and thought this was a recent death. I couldn't let the idea rest and set out to find the answer to the riddle of this ancients death. I found a Ranger in one of the visitor centers and inquired about whether or not he knew what happened. He said that this old tree had died whithin the last three years. It had been core sampled and verified to be over 1,700 years old but couldn't survive the thoughtless mob of visitors. He tired to soften the disrespect of this old pine by saying "The poor old tree was basically loved to death."

"Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
Ancient Indian Proverb