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How a powerful message from the world’s oldest tree saved a man from a midlife crisis

By Oliver Gunther

I was a teenager when my parents, whose birthdays were very close together, celeb..

By Oliver Gunther

I was a teenager when my parents, whose birthdays were very close together, celebrated their fortieth birthday. I thought, “Forty. Man, that’s old.”

I am now a few days away from turning that same age and I am feeling it. It’s an odd age to anticipate.

It’s like standing on the dividing line — the precipice — of the average human life span.

The lines on my face are coming in like teeth. White licks are showing up in my hair. I’m fit, but when I wipe out on my mountain bike and get wounded, it takes noticeably longer to mend.

Perhaps my wife saw a train wreck coming. She watched me carefully; she could smell the impending mid-life-crisis. And so, in a wise preemptive strike, she decided to take me to the oldest living being known to humankind.

We flew into Las Vegas, drove through Death Valley, and then passed through the Owens Valley — with the Sierra Nevada Mountains flanking us on one side and the White Mountains of California on the other.

Inyo National Park was closed in April, which meant that we had to hike from the gate at the main road, head high up in the mountains into the Bristlecone Pine groves. We had the park to ourselves.

The temperature was two degrees Celsius, and the air was very thin at an altitude of 3353 meters. My breathing was laboured, as though I had been running. But the air smelled of wild lavender and it was as refreshing.

As we ascended, the clouds closed in on us with a light drizzle, but then gave way to the sun. There was still snow on the ground, as deep as sixty centimetres in some snowdrifts.

After an hour of hiking uphill, we caught our first glimpse of one of the most ancient forests in the world, where the trees are thousands of years old. The forest seemed enchanted, as though the trees were going to start walking or talking, or something else equally surreal.

Maria and I walked along the path of the Bristlecone Pine grove, zigzagging up and down hills, walking past old survivors.

There too were the remains of the ones that didn’t make it, still defiant.

Bristlecone

Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest near Bishop, California. With some at over 4,700 years old, they are the oldest trees in the World. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Bristlecone Pines can stand dead for centuries because nature’s clean-up crew of fungi, bacteria and insects aren’t welcome here, leaving the process of decomposition severely impeded.

I took some time to examine those dead trees. Some of them were quite small, and probably no more than a few centuries old — babies.

I wondered what had gone wrong for them. Maybe disease, or maybe one year was just too dry to bear. I know I have taken my own health for granted. I have to stop that.

We followed the path until we came to a clearing on the hillside where the forest stopped. Out in the open, far from the forest stood a single, living tree. You see, the longest lasting Bristlecone Pines are those that exist in exile from the rest.

There stood the oldest living being on this planet (and if Earth is the sole retainer of life in the Universe, then this tree is the oldest living being of All).

Both Maria and I stopped in our tracks. We felt we were in the presence of something extraordinary. But it was just a tree standing there, not doing anything but surviving — surviving for just short of 5,000 years.

That old Bristlecone Pine, named Methuselah after the oldest patriarch in the bible, has stood in that one spot up in the Inyo National Forest for over 4,770 years. It stood high when Pharaohs were building pyramids to testify that they, too, were once alive.

I hurried down the hill to see Methuselah up-close. I ran my fingers across one of his dead branches. The bare wood, stripped of bark and polished by the elements over many years, felt as smooth as an expensive marble. I caressed the bark that kept him alive, and stroked the soft pines on his branches. I was profoundly moved.

I had read all about the bristlecone pine. Prior to the trip into the White Mountains of California, I drove my wife crazy about the old pine that doesn’t know how to die. I prattled on about mundane statistics: the ancient being stands approximately 8 metres tall, with a girth of nearly 3.35 metres.

Methuselah still has every sign of life as he is still growing, and he is still fecund. The Sierra Nevada Mountain range steals all the moisture given from the ocean, leaving the Bristlecone Pines high and dry. In the course of a year, the tree’s thirst is quenched with approximately 25 centimetres of precipitation, the majority of it drifting down during the winter.

Methuselah

“It was just a tree standing there, not doing anything but surviving — surviving for just short of 5,000 years.” (Chao Yen/Flickr)

Scientists claim that Bristlecone Pines have no genetic coding for senility, no trigger for degeneration. If conditions remain adequate, this old thing could stand there in that one spot high upon the Earth until the sun explodes into a supernova.

It is puzzling that anything could survive, with this kind of longevity, in such an inhospitable environment. Paradoxically, it is the harsh elements at this altitude that allow these sculptures of nature to prevail: the dry, thin air limits the growth of fungi, bacteria, and insects that can invade a tree; the dolomite stones, the size of a woman’s hand, reflect sunlight, keeping the roots cool and moist.

There is little competition for the scant surrounding recourses, allowing the Bristlecone Pine to sprawl out its root system with a firm grip, squeezing out any nourishment it can from the stingy ground.

This struggle to stay alive in the harshest of conditions — and the success of it — had me feeling feeble, lucky and spoiled.

Maria came down from the edge of the forest and joined me. Together we stood at Methuselah’s side, humbled by nature, dwarfed by time.

I directed a smile of gratitude toward her for putting my milestone birthday in a completely new light.

Click ‘listen’ above to hear the essay.

The post How a powerful message from the world’s oldest tree saved a man from a midlife crisis appeared first on News Wire Now.

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Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulates Donald Trump despite no election result

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has handed Donald Trump victory in the 2020 United States Presi..

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has handed Donald Trump victory in the 2020 United States Presidential election, despite no official result being declared.

“Its pretty clear that American people have elected ⁦Donald Trump and Mike Pence for four more years,” Janša tweeted on Wednesday.

Donald Trump declared a premature victory at the White House and described the election process as a “major fraud on our nation”.

The campaign for Democrat candidate Joe Biden has described the bid to stop vote counting as “outrageous, unprecedented and incorrect”, and say they are “ready to deploy” legal teams.




The Slovenian Prime Minister’s tweet generated an immediate response from several MEPs, including German Nicola Beer from Renew Europe Group.

“Donald Trump has his deeply undemocratic, unjustified playbook on elections EU Member States should not play along,” tweeted Beer.

“The European Union, with all Member States, has a duty to show respect for every single vote. Period.”

No other EU leader has issued congratulations or themselves announced a result in the US election.

“While we wait for the election result, the EU remains ready to continue building a strong transatlantic partnership, based on our shared values and history,” said EU Vice-President Josep Borrell.

The electoral college votes have not all been counted at time of writing.

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“More delays and facts denying … [the] bigger the final triumph for the President. Congratulations ⁦to the Republican Party for strong results across the US”.

The US election is currently locked in a stalemate, with hundreds of thousands of votes still to be counted, and the outcome still unclear in key states.

The post Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulates Donald Trump despite no election result first appeared on NewswireNow – A Press Release Publishing Service.

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Lessons for Africa from devastating Mauritius oil spill

The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and i..

The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and its devastating impact is expected to last for decades. Over 1 000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked into pristine Mauritian waters, covering the nearby shore in toxic sludge and immersing the ecosystem in a desperate struggle for survival.

This environmental crisis couldnt have occurred at a worse time for Mauritius. The spill will seriously impede the recovery of a Mauritian economy highly dependent on coastal tourism and already battered by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Mauritius and other African states need to promptly review their contingency strategies and response capacities so we can start positing immediate lessons to be learnt.

The national and international response to the MV Wakashio crisis was commendable. France, India, Japan and the International Maritime Organization cooperated to support local Mauritian efforts in a race against time to pump out the fuel from the vessel, which eventually broke apart on 15 August. Meanwhile local volunteers flocked to the shore with improvised booms and barriers.

Mauritius and other African states need to urgently review their contingency strategies

While a full investigation and report is urgently required, it is possible to start piecing together a narrative of what has occurred and how it turned so bad so quickly.

The MV Wakashio left China on 14 July heading for Brazil. On 25 July it ran aground on the reefs located roughly a mile off Pointe dEsny and the Blue Bay Marine Park along the south-eastern shore of Mauritius. No oil leakage was reported at the time, and the Mauritius coast guard swiftly deployed booms and took other preventive actions. The government activated its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan the following day.

By 5 August a minor oil slick was observed surrounding the vessel. It was still assumed that the countrys contingency plan was sufficient and that the risk of oil spill was still low. But then the MV Wakashio flooded and began sinking. Oil started to spill into the sea.

On 7 August Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a national environment emergency. Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo suggested that this is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem. Mauritius called for international help once the scale of the emergency became apparent and quickly overwhelmed the resources and capacity of the countrys national contingency plan.

The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating

Some of these resources were acquired as part of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Highway Development and Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention project from 2007-2012. The project also called for the establishment of the Regional Marine Pollution Co-ordination Centre (RCC) for Marine Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Western Indian Ocean.

South Africa will host the RCC, and its establishment must now be expedited. The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating, especially when they occur in sensitive and critically important environmental areas.

Will other African countries and regional organisations develop sufficient capacity to respond to crises on the scale of the MV Wakashio without depending on international assistance? There is a great risk of oil spills and leaks occurring elsewhere in the African maritime domain in the future, especially spills that occur during bunkering.

The Cape of Good Hope route is a maritime super highway. Some countries, like South Africa, are able to swiftly respond on their own, as demonstrated in May when the potential wreck of the Yuan Hua Hu, also carrying 4 000 tonnes of fuel oil, was narrowly averted.

Theres a great risk of oil spills occurring elsewhere in Africa, especially during bunkering

Many countries such as Mauritius lack at least some of the resources or capacities needed to deal with such a disaster. Governments require up-to-date assessments to plan future responses. Better and more collective resources and skills at a regional or continental level are required.

Improved accountability mechanisms are also important. The Japanese owners of the MV Wakashio have offered, under international obligations, to pay compensation for applicable damages caused by the oil spill. Yet in other cases it might not be as easy to track the owners and determine liability (as can be seen in the investigation into the tragic Beirut port explosion of 4 August).

It is time for African maritime institutions to review their approaches and develop appropriate expertise and response mechanisms. This should ensure fast and effective regional or continental action when the inevitable oil leaks arise.

The results should be reported to key multilateral organisations – ideally to the African Union (AU) – as part of the implementation of 2050 Africas Integrated Maritime Strategy. The AU could, for instance, convene a consultative forum for experience and skills sharing with inputs from all the regional economic communities such as that hosted by the Southern African Development Community in 2018.

Disaster relief is expensive, but is nowhere near as controversial as other maritime issues such as creating security frameworks and determining boundaries. It can also foster collaboration anchored in regional AU institutions that draw on indigenous expertise and capacities.

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More than 100 children killed and injured as violence intensifies in Ituri, DRC – Save the Children

Kinshasa, August 13 – At least 83 children have been killed in the northern province of Ituri in the..

Kinshasa, August 13 – At least 83 children have been killed in the northern province of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo between April and July. Save the Children is horrified by the recent escalation of extreme violence, in which also at least 17 children were injured and 12 were sexually abused.

In the same period, around sixty schools were attacked, and 17 health facilities – two of which were supported but the charity.

“The situation for children is getting worse by the day, in a conflict they should not have a part in. We need to ensure children can return to school, that they and their families can go to health facilities if they need to, and that they are protected”, said Malik Allaouna, Save the Children country director in DRC.

“We need more resources, and call upon the international community and the Government of DRC to help alleviate the suffering of these children. We are asking all involved parties to grant unhindered access to humanitarian workers, so they can support those who are most in need.”

Since January 2020, the situation in Ituri has deteriorated significantly in the Djugu, Irumu and Mahagi territories. At least 1,315 people were killed, including 165 children. An estimated 300,000 people have been displaced since January, adding pressure to the situation in Ituri, which already hosted over 1.2 million Internal displaced people in 2019.

“Children who had to flee from the violence told us they had to leave everything behind because militias came into the area of Djugu. Suddenly, they found themselves homeless and without any food, having to sleep in schools”, said Dr Macky Manseka, Humanitarian Health and Nutrition Programme Manager at Save the Children.

Save the Children, which has been responding to this crisis for over a year, warns that displaced populations do not have access to enough food. Communities are also lacking health and nutrition services, clean and safe water and hygiene materials, as areas become increasingly cut off by violence and resources are in low supply.

“For example, there were more than 235 new cases of severe acute malnutrition in July 2020”, Dr. Manseka continued. “But because of the violence, we cant follow-up properly on sick or malnourished children. As a consequence, their treatment is disrupted, which might lead to relapses or even deaths.”

END

Note to editors:

Save the Children supports 17 health facilities, and runs programmes in support of survivors of sexual and gender based violence. It has a strong presence in the field of nutrition, and water, hygiene and sanitation. The organisation is also running education programmes in Ituri, and working to improve access to education for girls.

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