The ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest plays house to what are believed to be the oldest single living organisms on earth.* Earth, though. And this forest is located in California, where I happen to live at the moment. Coincidence?
Some of these trees are over 4,000 years old. The oldest (nicknamed Methusaleh) is actually close to 5,000 years old, but it isn’t marked, because the rangers are afraid that if they draw attention to it, people will head into the forest to vandalize the tree, or it will just become another tourist attraction, or a gang of hipsters will yarn-bomb it, or some other awful fate will befall the tree because humans, as usual, are the worst.
I actually like it better that way, though. I like the mystery. All of the bristlecones look like alien trees — I was actually about to type that they look like they are from another time, but I guess maybe they look that way because they are from another time. They are from most other times, in fact. The branches are twisted and multi-colored, probably from battling the harsh elements of their environment for longer than most of us can even imagine. Since the trees are up at 11,000 feet elevation where few other plants or insects can survive, there isn’t much competition for nourishment, and there isn’t anything that constantly threatens their well-being — not even the weather, harsh as it can be up there.
Some of the trees have even been struck by lightning or set on fire — and they don’t always die when this happens. I realize you could say the same thing about humans, but a.) we are less flammable than wood, and b.) we have the ability to stop, drop, and roll. If you set a human and a tree on fire right next to each other, I would probably place my money on the human’s survival over the tree’s. Depending, of course, on the human.
However, ask me if I think a human or a bristlecone pine has a better chance of weathering the apocalypse and I’ll choose the bristlecone pine every time. These things are like characters from science fiction novels. A meteor would probably just bounce off one of these trees — better yet, maybe the trees would absorb the power from the meteors and use it to live 5,000 more years. Maybe that’s what they’ve been doing this whole time. I bet they would be able to turn zombies back into humans, should the need arise. Nuclear war on the horizon? Cute, they’d say without interest.
I was out visiting the forest for work last weekend. At the photography studio we do a couple trips a year, usually to places around California or the nearby states, and occasionally to other countries (I know they’ve gone to Germany and Kenya in the past, and we may be going to Ireland in May). This particular trip was for night photography. We wanted to capture Milky Way photos and star trails photos.
Since I am absolutely no help when it comes to actually taking pictures, I tagged along to provide assistance for everything that didn’t involve cameras. I’m not really very good at camping, either, so I’m not sure exactly how much of a help I was in the end (I guess I at least provided moral support? I was also really good at using the walkie-talkies and providing homemade cornbread at mealtimes.)
The trip lasted from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, and we set up camp about 15 miles away from the forest, since you aren’t allowed to camp on the grounds. Friday night was a practice round, and we shot mostly static photos of the Milky Way. I got my first ever semi-decent photo taken at night, I think! I’ll post it here when it’s edited properly. It isn’t that exciting in the grand scheme of night photography, but it’s a pretty thrilling accomplishment for me when you consider that I really only figured out how to work my first DSLR camera a couple months ago.
Saturday night was showtime. We drove the 15 miles to the forest, which took about 40 minutes — the road is unpaved for the most part, so it’s super bumpy and dirt flies everywhere. It does, however, provide a nice setting for Creedence Clearwater Revival singalongs. We arrived around 6:30pm, scoped out a few good spots, and then everyone split up to set up their equipment and wait for night to fall. It got COLD — it must have been in the low 40s (Celsius translation: about 4ish?) at its warmest, so if you ever plan on heading out there, bring a good coat and a hat. If you want to be super fancy, like we were, bring a portable stovetop and make coffee while you sit around.
If you want to learn from our only mistake — don’t forget your whiskey at the campground.
I’m still working on my photo from that night (figuring out how to take the picture is one thing — figuring out how to edit it is apparently a whole other beast I have yet to tame), but I’ve put an example of a star trails photo in this post. It was taken by the instructor on this trip, and you can view his website by clicking here. He has many more star trails examples and a few excellent resources for anyone interested in taking these types of pictures.
It’s pretty wonderful to think that when I started this job back in March, it was essentially a happy accident — I was moving back to LA, this job was going to be vacant at exactly that time, and I would be able to fill in until they found someone who actually wanted to work in the photography business. I’m not sure if I want to work in the photography business for the rest of my life, but I’ve been able to incorporate so many of my professional and personal interests into this job — traveling, art, social media, learning — and I definitely want to pursue a career that involves all of those things as much as possible.
It’s also wonderful to think that these trees have been sitting here in my home state (and will, presumably, continue to sit here) for thousands of years, but I might never have discovered them if it hadn’t been for this job I didn’t think I even wanted. Coincidence?
I think not.
**My online research gave me several different answers for this and of course every article was published by someone trying to prove someone else wrong, but everything in this post is basically a summary of the things everyone pretty much agrees on. Also: I left out all of the confusing Latin science terms I didn’t understand.