Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Oldest Living Things

Imagine the world 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago, 2000 years ago.. How much of human history has passed in that amount of time? These trees, the ancient Bristlecone Pines, have lived here in the cold, dry White Mountains, east California's Sierras, for all of that and much more. Some were alive when the pyramids were built and were already mature trees when Jesus was born.
Growing between 10,000 & 11,000 ft. elevation on rocky dolomite (limestone) slopes that resemble the surface of the moon, these ancient patriarchs cling to life in this arid, hostile climate. Off to the west, the Sierra mountains squeeze most of the moisture from clouds coming in off of the Pacific and little rain is left to fall after they cross the valley and reach this range to the east, close to Nevada. Not much else can grow here, giving the Bristlecones, which have adapted to the climate and soil, the head start they need to survive.
Many of these trees are 2000-3000 yrs. old, calculated by both ring-counting and carbon dating - and the oldest tree, nicknamed "Methuselah", is determined to be 4,750 years old; it's exact location is kept secret, to ensure protection from vandals. The trees that live in the "better" locations grow fatter and taller and thus have shorter lives. The stunted ones living alone in the harshest conditions are well adapted and live the longest. Their wood is dense and impervious to disease, insects and rot and they only need a tiny amount of bark to live.. in fact letting parts of the tree die off is part of their survival strategy.
My wife and I spent an afternoon wandering among and photographing these beauties last year. Several trails wind through this grove (which is the "lower" one at 10K ft.) and for the whole afternoon while hiking, we didn't see another person.. just these ancient sentinels standing quietly as they have for centuries, facing the crest of the Sierras off to the west.
This is my first time to participate in Monochrome Monday... you can see an index of other participants by clicking on the link. You can also click on the smaller, first image to get a more detailed view.

"The Sentinels" - Eastern Sierra

25 comments:

Russ said...

Beautiful shots.

Aileni said...

The Bristle Cone - source of problematic climate proxies... though most of the difficulty stems from the individuals drawing the conclusions.
Superb images.
Thank you for gracing these pages.

grottogirl said...

That's amazing -- both the information and the photos. It sort of changes your outlook on things to learn about the history of these trees.

Gregorio said...

Beautiful B&W photos and real nice contrast.

Jill Berry said...

This bottom image sure depicts the persona of old age. It's gnarled and broken but continues to hang on. The low perspective helps it appear to be reaching to the clouds for sustenance.

Patrick said...

Mark, i will repeat my comment about your previous post : i envy you.

I'll also add that i admire your b&w skills.

Snapshutter said...

Wonderful B&W photo. The best one I've seen so far this round.

roentarre said...

This tree is surely having a decent history behind its belt. The black and white photo treatment is stunning to reveal the age and sophistication

There seems to be some sort of spirit behind that image

betchai said...

i just look at your picture and i wish i know how to capture this tree at its best in B&W too. thanks for the information, interesting, isn't it? that the one that can withstood all tests of time is the one that is able to adapt to all the harsh exposure from elements. i always am drawn to the beauty of these kind of trees, they are gnarled, but they look so interestingly beautiful, which for me speaks the depth of their character.

storybeader said...

now I'm trying to imagine what the color image looked like. They are majestic looking. Quite the angle!

Andy Richards said...

Nice work as always, Mark. And to think, lately I have been viewing MYSELF as one of the oldest living things.

tstreasures said...

I've always been partial to B&W especially with a subject such as these trees. IMO it adds character to the shot. Beautifully captured!

earthtoholly.com said...

It's so interesting that the most disadvantaged trees are the ones that survive. Your photos are beautiful!

Mook said...

Highly interesting article Mark cheers. Ditto for the pic's Mondays will be well worth looking forward to!

donnie said...

such beautiful textures and curves

younes said...

Great info and accompanying photographs. I've always wanted to see these pines upclose ever since I read Rowell's Mountain Light. I hope I will get around to do it soon.

Amy Lilley Designs said...

Thank you Mark for the wonderful history/earth science lesson...makes one feel very small midst the grandness and age of these relics which live among us!! Beautiful..:))

Lynda Lehmann said...

Fascinating post and gorgeous photos, Mark! It gives me the shivers to think trees can be this old. Just amazing. I guess the air in these regions is dry enough so that the wood doesn't rot very readily.

An interesting survival tactic, to let parts die off. If I forfeit my toes, do you think I can gain ten years? lol...

BURAOT said...

these pics are awesome!

Scott said...

Mark, you have wonderful photography, and I really appreciate the accompanying text. It appears we have some very similar interests in the subjects of our photos. I will be visiting your blog more often, and am adding you to my blog roll.

Any chance you are attending the Moab Photography Symposium?
Cheers!

Beltran Studios said...

Great pictures!

Geri Ohara said...

Thank you

Rob said...

gorgeous photography from a slogbite visitor

Bemused26 said...

Amazing picture!

Mark Alan Meader said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and input...

Lynda: I'd keep your toes..

Scott: thanks.. I'm not familiar with that event, although I do want to get up to that area sometime soon. As much as I like to shoot the breeze about photography and art, I guess I'd rather be off working by myself when I manage to get time to go somewhere. I already have your blog on my list of favorites.

Younes: Yeah, this would be your kind of place for sure. Someone, probably Rowell's wife, still runs Mountain Light Gallery right nearby here in Bishop.

James: You're right.. there is a kind of spirit that you can feel just walking around.