Within driving distance of where I live stood one of the oldest living trees in the world, until today.
This was terribly sad news. How odd to consider that something that lasted for so long and endured so much came to its end in one’s own lifetime.
But how do we begin to asses this sort of loss? It points out the woeful inadequacy of our preference for quantifiable measures, none of which could possibly account for the passing of old trees.
One measure of the tree’s significance suggested itself to me when a local station interviewed a woman who came to the fallen tree this morning with an old black and white photograph. Coming to the tree had been a part of her family’s history. The tree marked time for her. In one sense, it marks time for all of us.
America is not a land of ruins that might engrave in our imagination a feeling for the depth of history. There is very little by which we might take the measure of our lives, and less still that might suggest to us the ephemeral nature of the days with which we have been gifted and to discourage us from adopting the pretensions of presumed timelessness.
This tree, when it was looked upon and thought of, did just that.
Ursula Le Guin once wrote of one of her characters, “he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.”
That seems just about right.