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.
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.
“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.
Removal of artwork showing names of murdered women, children draws anger
An artwork depicting names of Australian women and children lost to male violence has been removed from a museum, amid claims it was considered “inappropriate” and “uncomfortable”.
The Lost Petition artwork, listing almost 1000 women and children who have died since 2008, was hung in the Her Place Women’s Museum Australia in East Melbourne for only a week when it was taken down on Wednesday.
Femicide researcher Sherele Moody, who collaborated with artist Dans Bain on the artwork, said the museum had asked to exhibit it.
But when the 30m artwork was hung along the ceiling featuring the names of the murder victims, it drew a reaction.
“While Dans was hanging it, someone came up and said it was really confronting and inappropriate and shouldn’t be there,” Ms Moody said.
“She just brushed it off.
“But then yesterday the museum contacted her and said they were taking it down because it wasn’t appropriate to have it alongside the Emily’s List exhibition there at the moment.”
Ms Moody, a News Corp journalist and founder of the Red Heart Campaign, which aims to end domestic and family violence, said the decision to take it down was “infuriating”.
“Literally what they’re saying, from my perspective, is the stories of women and children lost to violence are not worthy of being seen or heard,” she said.
“These women and children are an inconvenience and inappropriate.
“The murder of women and children is too uncomfortable for them.”
Ms Moody said a museum dedicated to women was the perfect place to display the work.
But the organisation based on celebrating women had now taken down an artwork detailing the greatest social issue facing them.
Families of the victims depicted were “extremely upset” at its removal, as it was a tribute to their memory and highlighted the impact of domestic violence, Ms Moody said.
Her Place museum said the Emily’s List exhibition organisers requested the artist remove the petition from the space, where a new exhibition marking the 25th anniversary of Emily’s List – a network for progressive Labor women in politics – was installed.
“Due to the size and scale of the Lost Petition, there was no alternative space at Her Place Museum to exhibit the artwork,” the museum said.
The Her Place board would reinstall the artwork later in the year, in a move it said the artist agreed on as part of the Her Voice program of Australian Women’s activism.
“The exhibiting of The Lost Petition was at the invitation of Her Place Museum Australia. It is a powerful artwork and that power is reflected in the feedback we have received,” the museum said.
Artist Dans Bain said the decision to remove her artwork made her “uneasy”.
“The fact that this work has been censored speaks to the stigma of male violence against women and children. It is an uncomfortable reality,” she posted on Facebook on Thursday.
“This work lists almost 1000 women and children, every woman and child on the Lost Petition is a loved one and has families that love them. They are not an inconvenience.”
Emily’s List Australia said it had a long term booking at the museum, which as a new facility had competing demands for space.
“Difficult decisions need to be made about how to display significant material in a small public space, during limited run exhibits,” the organisation said.
“The removal of The Lost Petition was temporary to enable installation in a more permanent way … and to ensure other women’s history exhibits move seamlessly in and around it.
“It’s a big, bold piece of art and it deserves showcasing.”
The organisation added protecting women from gendered violence was far from complete and “we are all dedicated to this work”.
Senator Claire Chandler unable to answer question on who is calling for ban of trans women in single sex sports
A Tasmanian senator pushing for transgender people to be excluded from women’s sport has been unable to name a single sporting organisation in the state who has called for the change.
Under a proposal introduced to parliament earlier this month, senator Claire Chandler wants the Sex Discrimination Act to be amended so it would not be unlawful for a sporting club to ban a person from a team based on their biological sex.
In a sensational grilling on ABC Radio Hobart, Senator Chandler was repeatedly asked to clarify who in particular is calling for the change.
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” she said.
When asked a further three times by host Leon Compton, the senator stood firm.
“What I will say is that I’ve been contacted by parents of girls who have realised how despondent their girls have become competing in sport, in situations where they’re competing against males and feeling like they’re not good enough to be in the game.”
“Is it possible, Claire Chandler, that this isn’t an issue at all; the fact that you can’t name a single group,” Mr Compton quipped back.
“Leon, like I said, I’m not going to get into specifics with you,” she responded.
She added she had been contacted by “sporting administrators” who have been concerned about the legal action that could be taken against them if they do exclude a transgender person from a single-sex sport.
“You look at what is happening with Leah Thomas in the United States, where this trans woman, I should say, swimmer, who’s beating her female counterparts by seven seconds in the pool. That is just madness,” Senator Chandler said.
Senator Chandler’s bill came back into the spotlight after Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed he had encouraged her to pursue it.
“I support it, as Claire knows. I think it’s a terrific Bill and I’ve given her great encouragement,” Mr Morrison told reporters on the hustings in Tasmania.
“Claire is a champion for women’s sport and I think she’s been right to raise these issues in the way that she has. Well done, Claire.”
But it remains to be seen if Mr Morrison’s backing will translate into broader support.
To have the bill introduced to the upper house, Senator Chandler had to do so as a private members bill, meaning she did not have support of the wider cabinet to put it on the agenda.
“If it was such a great bill, why isn‘t it endorsed by the cabinet?” Mr Compton pressed repeatedly.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with the Prime Minister obviously and with my colleagues about this issue. And look, if it’s something that the cabinet wants to consider, then that is obviously a matter for them,” Senator Chandler retorted.
With only three days left in the parliamentary sitting calendar, it is unlikely the Bill will pass, or even make it to the lower house, before the election.
Liberal MP Bridget Archer told Scott Morrison would decide if she could attend Grace Tame speech
Child sex abuse survivor and Liberal MP Bridget Archer was told the decision on whether or not she could attend a speech by Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins was “up to the Prime Minister.”
The confusion was blamed last night on a communication breakdown between the Whip’s office and the Prime Minister’s office.
The PMO insists it instructed the whips this morning to seek pairs from Labor for those Government MPs wanting to attend Wednesday’s National Press Club address.
That didn’t happen with Ms Archer told at 3pm it was “up to the PM” before she was finally told she could go after 7pm when news.com.au contacted the PMO.
In a major speech to be delivered at the national press club on Wednesday, the former Australian of the Year will speak out on tackling child sex abuse in Australia.
Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer secured a last-minute ticket to the sold out event on Tuesday, but her request to attend the event was not immediately granted.
Liberal colleagues claim she was told by party whip Bert Van Manem that it was “up to the PM.”
Despite Labor’s offer to allow her to leave Parliament despite the tight numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives, confusion reigned about whether she could attend.
After news.com.au contacted the Prime Minister’s office at 7:05 pm on Tuesday night, Ms Archer’s office then got a call 5 minutes later confirming she was cleared to attend.
The outspoken MP earlier declared she planned to cross the floor and vote against the Morrison Government’s religious freedom laws because they were in breach of Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws.
She told Parliament she was “horrified” that proposed amendments excluded children that identified as transgender.
“After so much progress how did we get back to a place where we ignore the harm we place on children when we tell them they are ‘other’, ‘less than’ and do not deserve rights and protections afforded to others – I fear it may risk lives,” Ms Archer said.
Labor’s manager of government business Tony Burke took to Twitter on Tuesday to insist there was no barrier from Labor MPs on Ms Archer or other MPs attending.
“If requests come in for the Press Club we will accommodate the same as we did for March4Justice,’’ he said.
“The government’s claim that we are meant to offer pairs that they haven’t requested is weird. And wrong.”
Last year, Ms Archer told news.com.au she burst into tears after she was taken to the Prime Minister’s office to discuss her decision to cross the floor on another matter despite repeatedly telling his staff she wanted to delay the discussion.
While Scott Morrison described the talks as “friendly”, Ms Archer said she was ambushed by the meeting and had earlier asked to delay it.
“I didn’t feel like I was being marched to the principal’s office. I just felt a little disappointed that it happened when I had expressed to the Prime Minister’s office that I would have preferred, that my preference was not at that time,” she told news.com.au.
“And I had said in the text messages to the Prime Minister’s office that I didn’t want to have the meeting, before the meeting.
“They sent me a message saying he wanted to see me at 12.15pm. I said I am not ready. I need a break.
“It was a big thing. It was just the emotion of the moment.”
Ms Archer is a child sexual assault survivor who voted with independent MP Helen Haines to suspend standing orders to establish an anti-corruption commission.
“I have found this year incredibly difficult, personally because of my own history as a child sexual abuse survivor,” she said.
“It has been difficult for me to sit with discipline in unity with all this going on around me and it has hurt me. It has hurt me.
“But I am not weak. I’m telling you that I don’t think that some of these things are the right way forward.
“That language being used yesterday about drones and warm bodies. That’s what I said to him. That I am not a drone.”
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