An elder: Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata)

Elevation 12000 feet, on what the current human occupants call Mount Goliath. The oldest known tree in Colorado germinated in the 4th century BCE. Youngsters in many stands are from the 1600s AD.

Do these trees live “a long time”? Perhaps this is the wrong thought. They live not such much a long time, but in a different time. Every creature has its rhythm. For life, time is not one thing, its passage is context-dependent. For the bristlecone pine, a needle ticks its clock on a scale of fifteen cycles of summer sun and water. A sapling builds its woody core through one hundred springs. The trees call us out of our own time scale, drawing the imagination into a tempo incommensurate with our own.

A dusky flycatcher sings from the tree top, the details of the cadences of its song ungraspable by my nerves. But the bird’s nerves live in a different geometry and velocity than mine. Another time. For a bird, and more so for a microbial cell, we are the bristlecones, ancient reminders of a mostly forgotten history.  At any one place in the world: thousands, perhaps millions, of times coexist.

Under the pine roots: Precambrian rocks. Ten billion new moons, a billion winters, a quadrillion cellular divisons.

The pines:



(last photo: rings from fallen tree sliced open in visitor center)


6 thoughts on “An elder: Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata)

  1. Jim Roelofs

    A pleasure to read this post and you caught some lovely light in the pics. Frames 3 and six are the definitive ones for me in this series.

    And as for your books, so much to absorb that I’m reading them again and again and . . .

  2. Sasha

    David! This wonderful and strange. I just wrote a short bit about time as I experienced it recently on the Farrallon Islands. I too felt different times coexisting and also felt some slip of a future time. I then tried to look up and digest various concepts of the existance and non exostance of time which left me confused and somehow bored. But your explanation is both accessible and of course a joy to read. It makes perfect sense yet it undoes something in my brain about how humans view time. Our time means nothing to the rest of life on earth and for that matter the universe. It is one of many layers. Yes I’ve been thinking a lot about time. So happy to be able to read your thoughts on it. I am still curious about this idea that time interms of the past, present and future all exist at once. I think very smart people call it the B theory of time, that time is tenseless? I guess in a biological sense I agree that mutiple times can coexist but the future? And how does the past exist in humans? It all sounds very poetic but I don’t think these physicists considered themselves poets by profession. If so, their work is pretty dense!

  3. johnboulton10

    Your concept of multiple times is “a joy to read” and highly useful. Australian Aboriginal people have a concept of time within their cosmological belief system that was interpreted by the great anthropologist Bill Stanner as the “Everywhen”; something we Westerners do find difficult to relate to because the arrow of time has been embedded into our intellectual software. John

  4. John Salmond

    Haskell, somewhat like Falstaff, is not only thoughtful himself, but the cause that thought is in others

  5. Jenny

    Literally breathtaking – I’m holding mine as I reread, getting caught on the “different geometry and velocity” – leaving me thinking about our significant insignificance, as all great writing should.


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