To wander over the earth in autumn is to discover life in the ruins of life, to be made conscious of the cycle. The leaves rustling underfoot are broken down, tiny cells seeping into the soil, becoming soil, enriching soil, forcing you to be aware of how many millions of years must have passed to create the soil on which you stand.
From the remains of a stump, life continues and grows. The wood is broken down by various specialized insects and decomposers into the worm-friendly dirt of the future. Nothing is left without use or purpose. The past is in our bones.
In eastern California stands Methuselah, a Great Basin Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) believed to be between 4,844 and 4,845 years old. It is “the world’s oldest known living non-clonal organism” and stands somewhere safe from prying human ambitions. Prometheus did not fare as well.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a Sacred Fig tree in Sri Lanka. It is said to be the southern branch from the historical Bodhi tree in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BC, and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. Today it is one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and respected by Buddhists all over the world.
Our stump makes no such claims. It’s lack of celebrity allows it to fade as gently as it began, from sapling to stump. I love the way the rings outlast the space between them- like calcium deposits in an animal skeleton, the mind begins to invent a story that makes sense of the spaces, the blanks, those parts that do not fall in lists.
The Fortingall Yew tree (Taxus baccata), currently residing in a churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland, is one of the oldest trees in Europe. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 5,000 years.
Each nook and cranny offers a potential home for rustling creatures, musicians in the master fugue. What ended the life of this handsome tree-turned-stump? Did fire play a role? Was lightning involved? It stood alone in th center of the backyard, so it might have attracted unwanted electrical attention.
The Senator was the oldest pond cypress tree in the world, located in Longwood, Florida. At the time of its demise, it was 125 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of 17.5 feet. The tree was destroyed by a fire on January 16, 2012.
Even still, to the left of our stump, a green plant covered in a soft layer of protective fuzz collects dew on its outstretched arms. The color green lurks across the landscape, still mostly free of autumn leaves. We wait. And watch.