Madness of Kings

The Roman Empire ruled the known world. Christianity owes much of its form and structure to the fact that the Romans expressed their rule in a military way and prized what they thought was order and fairness. While all of this was happening across the ocean, what are now ancient cedars had begun to grow in Roosevelt Grove, Washington. Having survived the many forest fires that sweep through this area of the northwest, these trees may be up to 2000–3000 years old with an average of about 800 years per tree. Impressed by such longevity, this year on the East Coast I’ve visited the two oldest trees in New Jersey (posts about them may be found in January and July of this year’s offerings). The Great Swamp Oak may be 700 years old, and the Basking Ridge Oak is over 600. The longest lived trees in the country, however, are out here in the west.


The cedars of Roosevelt Grove aren’t the oldest. There are Bristlecone Pines further to the south that are twice again the age of these millennial trees. One survives from the days when writing itself was first being invented and has lived through most of human civilization. Wisely, its exact location has not been disclosed. We all know how, in a moment of foolishness, a single human being can easily destroy that which can’t be replaced. The story of the Bristlecone Pines is illustrative. A naturalist studying the trees took a core sample of the tree that, at that time, was the oldest living tree known. When his bit broke off in the tree the solution was to cut it down to retrieve the bit. Fortunately an even older tree was later discovered in the same forest and those who know where it is don’t say. It’s a form of collective madness that makes humans want to conquer. Romans and trees both stand witness.

A few miles south of Roosevelt Grove stands the Shoe Tree. For reasons unknown, decades ago campers began leaving shoes on this great conifer. Shoe trees actually exist in several locations around the country. This particular exemplar was a well-known local attraction. Shoes had been nailed to the trunk, or tied together and tossed high into the branches. Whimsical and illogical, it would have drove a Roman crazy. Then a few years back someone decided to set the tree on fire. Thinking the act had ended the joie de vivre, one unthinking person sought to change history. After the act of destruction, however, shoes were once again nailed to the now dead tree, and once again tossed into its lifeless branches. The tree next to it, I noticed, has started to acquire its own sets of footwear. If it outlasts the empires of today, there will be those of generations yet unimagined wondering about the madness that those who insist on conquering leave in their wake.

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