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Monday, September 3, 2012

The oldest living things on earth...

     Yesterday my husband and I hiked around the Ancient Bristlecone Forest and it blew my mind.  We stood among the oldest living things on earth. The oldest living things on earth.   As I contemplated why, in my 23 years I had never had the inkling to go before now, (it's only a two hour drive from my house) I knew that it was all about God's timing. I wouldn't have seen what stood in front of me 20 years ago, or even ten.  There truly is a purpose for every season under heaven, and this was mine for these ancient trees. 
     There was something amazing about standing at the foot of something 4000 years old as Paul and I celebrated the brand new life of our third grandson Gideon just two days before.  I love how God uses things like this to reveal himself and how he uses us in each other's lives because if not for some precious friends, I would have missed this entirely.  A few weeks ago, our friend David went to finish a job at the visitor center and his wife Lisa went along for the ride.  David is a  master woodworker and put in all the counter tops and cabinetry in the new building. The next day, when Lisa posted a picture of an ancient tree, I couldn't stop thinking about it and asked Paul if he would take me so we made a date. 
      The new forest visitor center was still running on the adrenaline of the re-grand opening from the day before, (the old visitor center burned down in a fire several years ago) and the woman who greeted us sang the praises of DK Wordworks and his artistic cabinetry. After asking a few questions about the trails and the timing of the hike, Paul and I headed off.  We were told that the 4 1/2 mile loop around the Methuselah trail usually took about 3 hours if you stopped to take pictures. I saw Paul look at his watch when she said this and make new calculations.  I knew what he was thinking. These people had never put anything like me into that mathematical photo taking equation before. 
     So picture this. Me, who can't even drive home from Mammoth without stopping to photograph something, on a very narrow trail full of roots and rocks among the oldest trees on earth. This was not a trail that you could walk along and casually take pictures. The trail required my full attention, so it was one or the other. The reflection of the afternoon light on these trees captivated me and had me turning in circles and stopping at every bend in the road.  Paul was recalculating the time it would take us to get to the end before the first quarter mile. 
     I think it was right about the one mile marker that my camera froze. I'm not kidding. My brand new Iphone wouldn't close or shoot another picture. I thought perhaps the forty-seven pictures in a row or the jostling from the trail had killed it. I couldn't close the app, or turn it off.  My words, "Are you kidding me?!" brought my husband from the forty feet in front of me back to my side.  He was sympathetic and patient. I think he even felt my pain as we hadn't even entered the oldest part of the forest where Methuselah lived.  After a few minutes of panic, it finally shut down so I zipped it into my jacket pocket and moved forward behind the footsteps of my husband. In the quiet that followed, God reminded me that this ancient forest was not about me and the pictures I was taking, but about His creation and glory. Once I settled there, I somehow knew my Iphone would come back on. It did.
     We arrived in the grove of 4000 year old trees about an hour later and as we sat among them we read the amazing story of their survival. I will share some of that with you now. 
      Bristlecone Pines grow very slowly because of limited resources and short growing season. Only a thin layer of tissue (a growth ring) is added to the truck branches and roots each year. A one inch thickness of growth may take a century to accomplish. It may take 300 years to reach a height of 50 feet and they keep their needles for 30 to 40 years. This lack of forest floor litter prevents the spread of fire. These trees have been sculpted by wind, ice and extreme exposure to the elements. Their contorted shapes seem to defy nature and the exposed dead wood of these ancient trees seems to have their own color palette.  Sunshine, wind and aging all have their effect. The polished surfaces are the result of wind and ice blasting the surface for thousands of years. They may be famous because of their age, because of their ability to record climate trends. Their sensitive nature gives scientists a record of the past. Climates, droughts, severe frost, fires,and volcanic eruptions can all be recorded in these ancient pieces of wood. 
The amazing Great Basin Bristlecone Pine will continue to thrive in this harsh environment. Dolomite, climate, and dense wood all play roles in its secrets to longevity, yet there are many mysteries to solve. These oldest trees survive in the most difficult situations.  Perhaps there is a lesson in this for all of us. A lesson as old as these ancient trees.
I love this stuff!