"On the morning of August 6, 1964, thirty-year-old Donald Curry was leading several men up a trail along Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in Nevada. One of Curry's companions wore a U S Forest Service uniform, a second lugged a chainsaw, and a third carried a camera to document the event that would follow"
Thus begins one of the saddest stories a tree lover will ever read. In 1958 a National Geographic article had described a bristlecone pine in California that was more than 4,000 years old, which they named Methuselah. Curry, a geographer who was creating a climatic timeline using dendrology, tree-ring dating, was in Nevada taking samples from very old bristlecones there. He found one tree, named WPN-114, later named Prometheus, that had only a 19-inch strip of bark left but it was still putting out green needles. It was 252 inches around 18 inches off the ground. "Such a wide base would have required four men with arms outstretched to encircle it."
Curry tried to take bore samples of the tree but his instrument kept breaking. He finally appealed to the Forest Service ranger who gave him permission to cut down the tree.
When he got back to his lab he found the tree had 4,844 rings, nearly 200 more than the tree described by National Geographic. And it was cut above its base, losing access to some of the earliest rings. Curry had killed the oldest living thing on earth.
So begins Eric Rutkow's fascinating story of America and her trees. From the majestic white pines of New England to the giant sequoias of California, Rutkow describes the enormous stands of trees early European settlers found in America. He tells of Johnny Appleseed and the origins of Arbor Day. He relates the sad story of the loss of America's chestnut trees and then her elms to European bark beetles that had no natural enemies in this country. This is an extraordinary story and Rutkow tells it very well.
2012 No 105