Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Thousand Year Oak

Today we exist in a world where things come and go at a relatively rapid pace. Movies or songs that people swear to be the greatest that ever will be, seem to be so rapidly forgotten and replaced. It is incredibly rare for something to last one hundred years let alone a thousand. Thus, it is exceedingly difficult for humans to comprehend the magnitude of something that has existed for a thousand years.

While hiking in the forests of Cuerici, a biological field station positioned high in the mountains along the continental divide of Costa Rica, we came upon a towering old oak by the path. As we marched through the high elevation primary forest, our guide and the manager of the land, Don Carlos, an older but clearly still powerful and intelligent man, turned to our group and asked how old we thought the tree was. Someone shouted out, “One hundred and fifty years old!” Personally, I thought it could not be more than three hundred. Much to our collective surprise, Don Carlos stated that the tree was estimated to be over one thousand years old.

To think about that concept is utterly insane. Civilizations have expanded, innovated, overreached, and withered away time and time again and still that oak stands, uncaring. No satellites orbited the world when this tree took root, nor did any cars buzz through the night. There were no atom bombs to destroy us or airplanes to unite us. This tree has continued its quiet and peaceful existence deep in these back woods watching children grow up and bring their children to it, who would in turn do the same themselves.

The sheer impressiveness of this tree can be inspiring, yet it can also be harrowing. To think that trees of this stature are felled regularly by humans who have been on this world for a literal fraction of the time that this tree has stood is a crushing blow. How is it fair that any member of a species whose existence ends far before they as an individual can fully comprehend the world around them have such power to alter and ultimately destroy it? To stand next to a tree like this brings on a creeping humility. Without words, this tree demonstrates how little time humans are given on this world.

Luca Grifo-Hahn, Saint Mary’s College of Maryland

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