Monday, January 14, 2013

The totara bides its time, and stars go nova

A short walk in Peel Forest, which is a remnant of original forest left over from nineteenth century milling, reveals a totara or rakau taonga. i love how the roots snake around the base, like the Moreton fig trees of Norfolk Island. i am glad it survived. It is a thousand years old. It bided its time as the Maori and the Pakeha came and went and burned and milled.

But this totara is a baby compared with the oldest living thing in the world. King Clone is a creosote bush in California dated at 11,700 years old. It isn't pretty or majestic. It is just a wide circular smear of scrub on the desert. It has been dated by carbon dating and by measurement of growth. There are few pictures of it online and nobody seems to care about it enough to protect it. It lives on a dirt bike area and people drive over it not knowing it is there. It has seen the same as the totara, the coming and going of peoples and the changing of its environment, but over a much, much longer time.

People talk about how insignificant they feel when they look up at the stars. i like stars a lot, and with a bit of help i can find my way around the night sky. When my daughter was little we went to an open night with the local astronomical society. There was a long queue for the telescopes and for entertainment i started an 'I spy' game. People in the queue even joined in. There is not much to spy in a queue in the dark. 'I spy with my little eye something beginning with G'. 'God' said my daughter, one of nature's pantheists.* i actually was going for 'galaxy' but God was a good try. We all looked through the telescopes and marvelled and felt insignificant and grateful and wondered what would happen if that thing in Eta Carina really did go nova.

i don't feel small under the stars. i feel i am a part of it and even my little and uncertain knowledge gives me grounding and connection. i have a place here.

King Clone the creosote bush makes me feel that sense of insignificance i think others get with the night sky. The thing is so old, inconceivably old when you look at how ordinary it is. It is a living lesson in humility, a virtue i have always struggled with. All it does is live and grow, and its growth is so slow. There are some lichens that take a hundred years to grow as big as a dinner plate. That is humility. It asks nothing, takes nothing, just is.

* At the age of four she told me God was in her pocket. There was nothing in her pocket, she said. Only God was in her pocket.


  1. There's something that speaks to me of the resilience of life in general, as much as of the impermanence of humankind, when I see the lichen on the driveway.

  2. At four I reckon Ursula was already a considerable theologian...