To Meet a Tree

21 Jan

“How old is the oldest tree in the world?” one of the children asked me, as soon as they arrived at the MacLeish Field Station on Friday morning. I panicked, doubting my memory—was it 2,000 years, or 5,000? But even though I didn’t quite remember, there was still enough to talk about as we sat on the cushioned bench in the environmental classroom and waited for the morning’s activities to begin.

 Our conversation prompted me to do some more research. One of the oldest individual trees in the world is a bristle-cone pine tree (Pinus longaeva) dated to be 4,845 years old, in the White Mountains of California. And if you expand your definition of a tree to include a clonal colony of trees connected by an interlocking root network, the oldest colony is tens of thousands of years old, surpassing the lifespan of any individual.

OldestTree Methuselah, a California bristle-cone pine, and one of the oldest living individual trees in the world.

On Friday morning, when students in the “Landscape Interpretation” interterm class were joined by two 6th grade classes from the Smith College Campus School, we had the exciting opportunity to share with the children some of the knowledge we had gained throughout the week. Through a blindfolded ‘meet a tree’ activity, I led the students through an exercise of experiencing a tree without their eyesight.tree1


It was fascinating to watch how each of the students interacted with the trees in front of them, noticing differences in texture and diameter, and touching, smelling, (and even tasting) their trees. We discussed anything that surprised them about experiencing their tree, any expectations they had, or questions they were wondering about.


The morning was a great success, despite the cold. And as the students were leaving the classroom, I was talking to one of the boys about how cool the field station was. “That’s a really good pun,” he said, “because I’m freezing.”

-Ellena Baum, ’14 is an engineering B.A. major and an environmental science & policy minor. 

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