High up, above 11,000 feet in the arid White Mountains of California, just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and north of Death Valley, it is known for for extreme weather. This area gets less than a foot of rain a year. The wind blows almost constantly, and the temperature can dip to well below zero. After an hour-drive over a graded, long, windy and rocky 12-mile dirt road, we got spectacular scenery around us before we finally reached the Patriarch Grove. In this grove lives the largest of the oldest living entities on planet – the ancient warped, gnarled, and twisted Great Basin Bristlecone Pines.
Now just imagine this: some of these surviving Bristlecone Pines germinated during the Bronze Age (by the way, that’s between the Stone and the Iron Ages) :
– long before papyrus and ipads, when clay tablets were being used in Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamia and Minoan civilizations;
– before one pine’s frost ring corresponded with a volcanic eruption in the Aegean in July 1626 BC, and provided a precise date for the whole set of archaeological data on Minoan civilization;
– before earliest structures of Stonehedge were being prepared;
– when, a few hundreds years later, around 2500 BC, the Great Pyramid was constructed;
– well before the World population has expounded to an estimated 30 million people; and
– at a time when, per Wikipedia, human life expectancy was about 26 years.
During my healing journey through grief back in Fall of 2008 after the passing of my wife, Aspasia, I took a pilgrimage to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Before sunrise, I was mesmerized and amazed by the clear crispy air under the brilliant Milky Way, meteor streaks (CLICK HERE), and then fleeting clouds, in the glowing kaleidoscopic sky. Underneath enormous skies, the shaping of these trees started, and every tree looked different from its neighbor. Some are twisted into a corkscrew. Others have branches that stretch in multiple directions. Perhaps most remarkable is the color of the exposed wood, which glows with shades of orange and gold.
Before leaving, I stood there with goosedbumps, misty-eyed on the mountain, observing life older than our written history. The struggle for these organisms to maintain life during extreme conditions is never ending, continuing day after day, year after year, century after century, and millennium after millennium. I noted the continuing cycle, and personally felt more ready to take a small step forward into my own continuing life cycle.
This time when returning the second time to the Patriarch Grove, in our travels a few weeks ago, I noticed my changes, while the Patriarch Grove survives with unnoticeable changes. It made me aware, perhaps spiritually. Certainly, everybody has their different sense of what’s spiritual, what God there is, or what creator, or whatever you want to use. But when I walked among these ancients once again, I realized how insignificant I was in the total picture of things. Humility, greater appreciation, and even awe, crept over me – for these Ancient Great Basin Bristlecone Pines. Do indeed come here before sunrise – you’ll surely be moved as we were.