The Trembling Giant…

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JANUARY 2019
by dal…

 

Did I mention this earlier? 

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Creepy means different things to different people. To me sushi is creepy. I’m not fond of many raw foods outside of fruits. I pretty much like fish or meat well done enough to fall apart when I threaten it with a fork. This may stem from my mother’s cooking. She was not a great cook and she had some unusual ideas about serving food that seemed perfectly natural to me sixty years ago but in the occasional re-examination of my youth, I wonder what she was thinking. 

For example:

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Peas were always a side-dish. Mom served them in a saucer, bobbing in warm milk. I called them “floaters”. The peas came from a can and were closer to navy gray in color than pea green.

My mother didn’t like to buy breakfast cereal. Instead she would take a few slices of white bread, rip them up to spoon sized chunks, toss into a bowl and smother in milk and lightly sugar.

Friday was mandatory fish day. Usually Mrs Paul’s Frozen Fish Sticks with a side dish of floaters. 

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Wednesday was either hot dogs or ring baloney and they were always boiled and served tasteless with a side dish of floaters and a splat of ketchup.

Spaghetti came out of a can. On good days there was a meatball or two.

We rarely had desserts. A treat was prepared on “special” days when she would make grilled cheese sandwiches (Kraft Velveeta Cheese)…with a side of floaters. My brother loved grilled cheese sandwiches.

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We occasionally had steak. I don’t know what cut they were but our stove had a broiler and the steaks went into that broiler all red and marbled but came out singed brown and smoking…somewhat crispy and certainly tough. The edges of the overdone steak were curled up from the high broiler heat. They resembled shallow, brown pottery sherds.

I bring all this up to make a point. My wife, Kathy is a wonderful cook. When I told her about my pre-teen home dining memories she said those dinners sounded “creepy”. To me it was just “home cooking” and I’m certain I looked forward to mealtime as much as Betty Crocker’s son must have. Overcooked was my mother’s mantra. Kill all living organisms in meat and vegetables before they were served. It’s what I grew up with. It’s what I look forward to…although I prefer a more tender steak than my mother ever seemed to accomplish…sushi is creepy.

So it doesn’t surprise me when I hear people’s reactions to my long standing pursuit to sleep inside a living organism, they tell me “that’s creepy”. I’ve managed a few such sleeping experiences in my life-time. I slept a couple nights more than 100ft up in the canopy of a Coastal Redwood tree, well over 1,500 years old in Northern California, and although I wasn’t actually “in” the organism I did take a nap under a twisted and gnarled 3,500 year old Bristlecone Pine one fine summer day. There have been dozens of other such overnight excursions to and in ancient organisms.

It doesn’t always work out…Timber merchants intended to harvest a forest of enormous Western Red Cedars on the west side of Vancouver Island. I decided to run in before they got to the forest and spend one night in the canopy of a majestic coastal monarch understood to be over a thousand years old. I had stood in awe next to this ancient behemoth a few years earlier. I like trees. They speak to me (creepy). There was nothing I could do to stop the harvest of that tree. I just wanted to spend some final “quality” time up in it’s branches. But the loggers were quick and the magnificent trees were reduced to a trashy tangle of broken branches surrounding stumps the size of small houses when I got there. So I turned out my bedroll on the 10ft high, 16ft diameter stumpish remainder of my tree and said goodbye to an ancient life form.

Not all archaic organisms are trees. But the ones we can precisely measure tend to be trees. We can count the rings to accurately determine a tree’s age. Dendrologists do this. They can even count the rings on a live tree by drilling a small hole in the tree and taking a “core” sample. Then filling up the hole. Hard to do that with a Galapagos Tortoise so we still don’t know how old those things are.

Last fall I heard about “The Trembling Giant” or “The Pando”. This is one of the oldest living, single organisms on earth and…it’s in Utah. I can drive to it in a day plus. They figure this organism is at least 50,000 years old…WHAT???

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How can anything alive in Utah be 50,000 to 80,000 years old???

There have been fires and volcanoes and biblical style floods and disease and water shortages and climate change and die-offs and insect invasions and earthquakes and wood cutters…How could one botanical organism live through all that for 50,000 or more years??

This organism’s strategy is to spread. According to Atlas Obscura, Pando means “I Spread” and has 47,000 stems covering approximately 107 acres and weighs 6,615 tons…a massive organism by anyone’s standard. The tens of thousands of trees are not individuals like you would find in a typical forest, but rather stems of the same 13 million pound organism.  (creepy).

For an enthusiastic botanical specimen admirer such as myself, The Pando…AKA The Trembling Giant is a “must sleep in”…

So off I head…one fine fall day….on my way home from Santa Fe.

The drive is scenic. I stay off the freeways as much as possible and take the side highways and byways…the scenic routes. The smaller the towns, the better for me…at least until lunch time.

The Pando is located in the Fishlake National Forest in south central Utah. It more or less covers land at the south end of Fishlake. It’s not hard to find. See that picture up above. That’s what I expected to find. But my calculations for the location forgot about one crucial measurement….elevation.

The drive through Southern Utah in fall can be spectacular. At about 5,000 feet in elevation I was treated to soul satisfying views like these:

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Canyons, mesas, plateaus, fall foliage, cut roads, comfortable temps…PERFECT!

But then, as I started to head out of the lovely, lush Koosharem Valley, I began to climb in elevation, By the time I reached the Pando I was at 9,000 feet and fall was long gone. Winter had settled in. The temps were in the low to lower 30’s and Pando’s foliage was laying flat on the ground…colorless.

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I should have left two weeks earlier. Timing is everything!

None of this was going to deny me the opportunity to sleep inside the largest single organism on earth…

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That night, curled up in my bedroll, I dreamt I could talk with The Pando. It told me stories that made me laugh about the first people it ever saw and the time when it watched the rainbows fight with the trout over Fishlake. (creepy)

In the frigid morning I was colder than an ice-packed tuna headed to market. I desperately needed to warm up my innards. I stopped at a resort on the lake and had a bowl of hot oatmeal and hotter hot cocoa. It was perfect!!

I also learned that scientists think that The Pando is dying. WHAT??

What could possibly kill a 50,000 to 80,000 year old organism that has lived through dire straits, planetary upheaval and the Nixon presidency? The answer surprised me.

Deer.

Deer are apparently eating all The Pando’s tender young sprouts as they emerge. Leaving no new growth. Nothing to replace the older trees as they die off.

No trees, no leaves…

No leaves, no food for Pando.

It seems like there should be an easy solution to this problem.

Save The Pando…Eat More Venison!

Seriously, venison is tasty. Unless of course you make it the way my mom made it… (creepy).

 

-dal