The oldest souls in the world…

And this is the fifth in a series, from

Being a walker, and a runner, I like to study trees wherever I go. And I look for old trees.

I look at them from a number of perspectives. How healthy are they? What kind of leaves do they have, what about the bark, where do their roots go? And this is something about how to sense the age of a tree. Looking at a tree, studying their time on the planet — there is the scale of the leaves — the profusion of their arrangement — how do they fill out space, creating place? As a variation in considerations, what is the mass of the foliage — as a tree ages, it increasingly reaches out, filling a volume in responding to the movement of the Sun. Studying the trunk, the size of it, is another clue to understanding age. Old trees are bigger — their trunks are larger — and looking down, studying how they have impacted, literally, the earth, you can see more about their balance. How are they “holding” the earth, how do they embrace it?

Being in NYC, there’s a tree there in Central Park, north of the reservoir, that’s the oldest tree in New York. The London Planetree. It’s a great tree for urban living, it survives city life — like the American Sycamore or the Western Planetree. This is, as well, the tallest tree in NYC. It is planted all over Brooklyn.


In San Francisco, the oldest trees are north of the city, in the Muir Woods, the redwood groves. Yet further out, in the White Mountain Range, over Tioga Pass, lie groves of trees that are far older. There is Methuselah (estimated germination 2832 BC), a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) which was 4,789 years old when sampled in 1957 by Schulman and Harlan, tree scientists and dendrochronologists studying tree age for insights. It is the oldest known non-clonal organism (a genet, or genetically individual) still alive, at the age of about 4,839 years old.

The Methuselah Grove in the Inyo Forest

There are others that have been cherished, and known, for generations. The Castagno dei Cento Cavalli, from Sicily, at 4,000 years of age,

the Sarv-e-Abarkooh, the Zoroastrian Sarv — a Cypress from Abarkooh, Iran. the Llangernyw Yew of Wales, below, aged 4000 years.


Still, this past year, the oldest living thing, a tree, has been found on the planet.

Scientists discovered the 13 foot tall (4 meter tall) spruce growing at an altitude of 2,985 feet (910 meters) on Fulu Mountain but it is thought its roots actually sprouted just after the end of the last ice age, nearly 10,000 years ago, and the lone survivor has been cloning itself ever since.

Leif Kullmann photo

These trees were found perched high on a mountainous region, the Dalarna province, where they were protected from logging and intrusion — but tempered by hundreds of years of harsh weather conditions, bridged between Norway and Sweden.

The discovery showed trees of 375, 5,660, 9,000 and 9,550 years old and everything displayed clear signs that they have the same genetic makeup as the trees above them. Since spruce trees can multiply with root penetrating braches, they can produce exact copies, or clones.

The tree now growing above the finding place and the wood pieces dating 9,550 years have the same genetic material. The actual has been tested by carbon-14 dating at a laboratory in Miami, Florida, USA.

The old ones, contemplated:

The spirit of the old trees is what they bring to us, what experiences have passed in the movement of the planet and their watching presence, as our lives come and go. That turning is a meditation. As the leaves turn, so do ours, in the momentum of time. So in my experience, looking at trees, the spirit that lies within them, the young ones, the old ones — it’s about that contemplation of temporal beauty.

Looking at trees, especially the old ones, the silent meditation is on my movement, my place — in the passing of things — knowing that, as I go on, they too, go on.

And doing that, what am I looking at, what am I looking for, is the study of beauty in emergence.

New York City Trees:
The Methuselah Grove:
The Pando Grove at 1,000,000 years:
Life is short, savor: