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Welcome to Khalifa’s California, an exploration of interesting and little known aspects of the state sure to elicit an “ahh” or “ohm”; an “ah-ha” or “uh-oh”; an “oh-my” or “oh-no”.

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This edition takes us high into the White Mountains of northern California quite close to the Nevada border where one of the world’s oldest sentient beings resides—an ancient bristlecone pine tree aptly named Methuselah in homage to the oldest character in the Hebrew Bible who allegedly lived more than 900 years.

The life span of the biblical elder however pales when compared to California’s Methuselah who had already lived a thousand summers even before the great Pharaoh Ramses ascended the throne of ancient Egypt. California’s Methuselah is believed to be more than 4,700 years old.

Methuselah lives in a grove among other ancient bristlecone pines. The appearance of these primeval trees in the Methuselah Grove of California’s Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest gives testament to their advanced age.

With trunks warped into aberrant shapes and deformed branches that reach like searching arms in random and obscure directions, the trees’ strange and wizened shapes force a remarkable contrast to the stunning and strikingly brilliant hues of orange and gold that adorn sections of their twisted trunks.

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Photo: Methuselah – The World’s Oldest Tree/Waymarking

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It is largely this coloring, a coloring that looks to be enhanced by the hands of a master artist, which creates the aura of magical reverence one feels when standing in the sacred grove. The naturalist John Muir summed it up best when he wrote, ” . . . whether old or young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, these trees are irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque offering a richer and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other species I have yet seen.”

The trees’’ gnarled and distorted shapes may be partly owed to the area’s weather.  Temperatures high in the White Mountains can drop to below zero; the winds are known to blow restlessly; and, in an average year, the area rarely gets more than a foot of rain. Fortunately, during years when the weather is bad and snow stays on the ground, the trees do not need to expend energy on new growth because the needles of a bristlecone pine can stay on its limbs for over 40 years. This may contribute to their long lives.

Another factor in the trees’ longevity is the high amount of resin in their wood. The wood’s composition keeps it from drying out too much during periods of hot and dry temperatures. According to experts, the resin also protects the tree from insects and harmful bacteria.

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I too felt a certain magic, a sure reverence for antiquity when I stood in the Patriarch Grove and admired these glorious trees some twenty-five years ago.

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Because bristlecone pine trees live thousands of years they are frequently used in the field of dendrochronology.  Dendrochronology is the science of dating past events and variations in the environment by studying growth rings in trees and aged wood. Not only do these trees help scientists understand weather and growth conditions of the past, they also offer insight to the future—some even believe ring patterns of the past foretell the future.

In 2011, Bristlecone Pine Forest Manager John Luth asserted signs of climate change were apparent because warmer temperatures at 10,000 feet and above cause more trees to sprout.  At the time, according to Luth the abundance of tree sprouting due to warming weather made the area look like a nursery for bristlecone pines.

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The first reports of the existence of these remarkable trees were made by members of the Paiute tribe of Native Americans about 4,000 years ago. According to legend, one summer the Indians gathered pine nuts and hunted deer in the area of bristlecone pines and returned to their village with tales of, “strangely shaped trees whose wood could be used to build a shelter but could not burn”.

I too felt a certain magic, a sure reverence for antiquity when I stood in the Patriarch Grove and admired these glorious trees some twenty-five years ago. I remained contemplatively silent in their presence.

I’ve always held a special reverence for trees. The fact that an average tree absorbs as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year; can produce enough oxygen to sustain two human lives; and in one day, can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the air for recycling is miraculous. These contributions in addition to the priceless information revealed in their rings and wood make ancient trees like Methuselah more than silent witnesses to history.

Methuselah’s advanced age and protected status makes its exact location a secret closely held by the National Park Service.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text css_animation=””]Visit the United States Department of Agriculture for more information on these interesting trees.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4iY2RMvAM8″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_separator color=”grey” align=”align_center” style=”” border_width=”” el_width=””][vc_column_text css_animation=””]BVN Contributor: S.E. Williams
Feature photo: Methusela Walk USA CA/Wikipedia[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager...