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.
Posted in Current Events, Environment, Posts, Religious Origins, Travel
Tagged Basking Ridge oak, Bristlecone Pines, Great Swamp Oak, Roman Empire, Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars, Shoe Tree, Washington
Those of you who punish yourselves by reading my posts regularly may wonder at how different my last couple of posts have been. “Vacation” in and of itself is sufficient explanation for the out of the ordinary—different time zones, unreliable grammar, a certain dreaminess of topic (this is why we should all take plenty of time off work). In this case, however, there’s more to it. My wife injured herself the night before our early morning flight, and although she’s recovering well, another traveling companion is moribund. My faithful laptop that has traveled the country, indeed, crossed the ocean a hextad of times, died in its sleep on the flight over. I shut it down before climbing aboard the plane, and when I tried to boot up after that, nothing. Not friendly Apple starting tone, no wink from the camera, no sign of life from the screen.
I pulled out my phone as soon as I landed and asked Siri if there was a Genius Bar nearby. I was headed into remote parts, where shotguns are far more common than laptops. I had projects to accomplish in the rainy moments. I had a couple of readers to keep updated. Could the geniuses perform a miracle? Alas, the schedule was unforgiving. I hadn’t made an appointment and even though I’d been pouring money into Apple products while the genius before me was in still in diapers, I was up a proverbial (as well as literal) creek without an Apple. He halfheartedly gave my keyboard some kind of Vulcan finger combination pinch, but the look in his eye was definitely more Klingon.
I remember coming to this remote cabin before cell phones were invented. People were just beginning to whisper about this rumor called the Internet. People still wrote each other letters. And here I am in downtown Spokane, weeping over the dead device in my lap. It had its limits, in any case. I can’t take it into the lake with me. It needs, at its age, never to wander too far from a power outlet. And yet, it holds all my darkest secrets and most enlightened ideas. And my thumbs are too fat for typing on my phone. Looking out over the mist dancing wraith-like across the Saran-Wrap early morning surface of the lake, I see two bald eagles fly by. Surely I wouldn’t have seen them had I been behind the large screen of my departed friend. These are, after all, communications from the very edges of civilization, and technology may not, all things considered, save my soul.
Posted in Consciousness, Environment, Just for Fun, Memoirs
Tagged Apple, Consciousness, death, Genius Bar, laptop, Spokane, vacation, Washington
Until I met my wife I’d never been west of the Mississippi. Or even Ohio for that matter. Together we’ve traveled, in a fashion broken by years, from coast-to-coast and even overseas. Nothing in my life had prepared me for seeing the American West. No, I’ve not seen cowboys, but the landforms are so different from the weathered, ancient Appalachians among which I grew up. Eastern Washington is a fascinating landscape and with my occasional flirting with geology, I recently read John Soennichsen’s Bretz’s Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World’s Greatest Flood. Within the last couple of years I’d read about Glacial Lake Missoula, a juggernaut of an ice age lake that had flooded parts of Idaho and Washington thousands of years ago when its ice dam gave way. J Harlen Bretz was a turn-of-the-(previous)-century geologist who defied convention and insisted that the evidence of eastern Washington proved that a massive flood washed over the area, giving distinct shape to the region that empties into the Columbia River basin. For much of his career he was ridiculed by other geologists. The reason? The Bible.
Geology was the science that gave Darwin the idea for his evolutionary theory. The factor that had been missing from science, before geology, was time. The 6000-year-old earth just wasn’t old enough to account for the slow changes required for one species to morph into another. As scientists came to realize that billions of years were available, it became clear that change occurred even more slowly than the GOP is happy with. For geologists, anything that happened quickly was anathema. As Bretz’s Flood makes clear, a sudden flood sounded far too much like old Noah to be science. Catastrophism had been cleanly rejected by geologists because even if the evidence supported it, it looked like a return to mythology and superstition. Interestingly Bretz began his academic life among the Methodists of Albion College, and continued to quote the Bible to his last days. He was, however, an atheist.
The Bible has shaped our culture more thoroughly than Noah’s putative flood has shaped geology. I’ve read many geological studies over the years and any that are written for non-specialists never mention great floods without at least a nod to Noah. In fact, as Soennichsen points out, Bretz has ironically become a hero of Creationists who see the Missoula flood as Noah’s event. A large portion of Bretz’s career, however, was dogged by geologists duty-bound to deny a sudden flood just because the Bible tells us so. Sudden events are smeared with the residue of the divine.
J Harlen Bretz is hardly a household name, but his career is a microcosm of American culture. Glacial Lake Missoula did exist, as geologists now accept, and long before Noah was a twinkle in Moses’ eye. When the dam burst, the fable did fall, and down came the ark, Noah and all.
Posted in Bible, Books, Creationism, Evolution, Genesis, Natural Disasters, Posts, Science, Travel
Tagged Albion College, Bretz's Flood, Creationism, geology, Glacial Lake Missoula, J Harlen Bretz, John Soennichsen, Noah, Washington