I was recently (as of 2007…that’s when I first composed this post, if you can believe it) looking through several architectural histories, amazed by the ingenuity and the hubris of the skyscraper. If you’re curious as well, this simple pictorial time-line should give you the basics for appreciating how quickly this symbol of modern city life developed. No matter how spectacular our collective accomplishment, and no matter how powerful our collective ideation of the skyscraper form is, they will never hold as firm a place in my heart as will the global community of trees.
Redwood trees are also living irrigation systems. “Redwoods can gather as much as half of a forest’s annual supply of water. Just one tree can effectively drop 4 inches of rainfall in one night.” 1
As far as I can gather, these trees are world-renowned, reigning record holders:
The Tallest: Hyperion
Every year seems to bring news of a new tallest tree, but as of today California redwood Hyperion is the accepted champion. Standing 9 feet taller than the previous title holder, Stratosphere Giant (who lives in an adjoining park), Hyperion is a fantastic 378.1 feet tall. None of the pictures I found convey a suitable sense of scale, though some of the photos taken by those who climbed up to Hyperion’s canopy are worth searching for.
In 2003, what was believed to be the tallest tree in the world, El Grande of the Tasmanian rainforest, was inadvertently cooked alive “after a fire started to provide woodchips raged out of control.” 2El Grande was estimated to be only 260 feet tall, however, which just goes to show how rapidly such knowledge changes, or rather, how different a body of knowledge becomes when alternate questions are asked…
El Árbol del Tule is a Montezuma Cypress that lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. I love this picture for how it captures the dominant physical presence of the tree, but here is one that shows its characteristic 37 foot diameter girth, as well as one of its signature knots.
The Most Massive: General Sherman
And California makes the list again, this time with a sequoia. General Sherman is widely acknowledged as the largest living organism of any kind on Earth, so far as we know, though I have my suspicions that some creepy unknown deep sea critter would easily earn this crown. (Then again, isn’t the Earth itself alive?) The General is over 2.7 million pounds, and occupies roughly 52,500 cubic feet of forest. And I mean MASSIVE.
The Oldest: Methuselah
At an estimated 4800 years old, Methuselah, a California bristlecone pine has witnessed the greater part of all recorded human history.
If I could, I would dedicate my life to visiting elder trees out of humility, apologizing for centuries of mistreatment by human hands. Perhaps I should abandon human-oriented archival programs and go work for the Waldspaziergang (The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research)…
Of course, that might be too limiting. As I’ve always been a touch pessimistic about our profound insensitivity to other life on this planet, I’m wondering if The Svalbard Global Seed Vault might be more my style. What do you think?
2011, December: I am considering refreshing the ol’ Robotic
Librarian Archivist, so I will be posting some of my old drafts, shaking off the dust, and starting fresh. I’ll keep you posted.