Sanity, saguaros and sugar
(no. 35) An old tree can teach you new tricks By Stephen P. Williams
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But first, this: Will your hand sanitizer explode if you leave it in the car on a hot day? Yes. I mean no. It will NOT explode. And yes, that hand sanitizer is a vital part of aging well. Out, out, damn virus.
Photo of bristlecone pine by me
While traveling for my book and video project, Postcards from Pandemic, I’ve seen rare American Elms, Sequoias, giant redwoods, and ancient bristlecone pines. While the 1,500 year old bristlecones, which I saw near Bishop, California, show signs of aging, most trees I see only express their age by their size. That size is deeply influenced by the amount of sun and water they get.
Scientists say that internally, trees don’t age much. Unlike humans, their organs don’t get clogged by Cheez Whiz and oversized vegan brownies. They die from environmental causes such as pests, diseases and clearcutting — the latter is definitely still happening, based on what I’ve seen. It seems like they stay still, take care of themselves and peacefully await their ultimate fate. I mean, I’ve totally anthropomorphized trees there. But you know what I mean. I’m inspired to age better by the stillness and resilience of trees.
To visit the bristlecone pines, I drove a curvy paved road up into the White Mountains of Eastern California, then took a gravel road 12 miles to over 11,000 feet where a large grove of bristlecones remained, largely unvisited by people who came to the park. At my first sight of the bristlecones, which were gnarly but sill majestic, I experienced a new feeling — deep humility.
I was humbled beyond anything I’d ever felt previously. Any sense I’d had previously that I was a humble person vanished. It was as if the trees were broadcasting a message of stillness, hopefulness and a complete abstraction of worry that I hadn’t had an inkling of. Many of them had stood in that same ground for over 1,000 years. All I’d done was drive my gas guzzling truck 40 minutes on a bouncy road to see them. I had no message for them at all. I was purely the recipient of their silence.
Time passes. We get older. Humility becomes useful.
This curious band inspires me
SUSS is an ambient country band founded by several gentlemen of a certain age. Some were rock stars in the 70s and 80s. Which shows that creative exploration need never end.
This song makes me want to meet someone and fall in love.
More news for you.
Respect your elder cactuses
For those of you who don’t like trees, I present the amazing saguaro cactus. It ages very slowly, not flowering until it’s 35 years old, not growing an arm until it’s at least 50.
This series of tools lets you gauge your risk of being infected with the coronavirus in various common situations.
Feeling out of mental balance or worse? You are not alone.
Respect your voters
Finally, presidential candidates are responding to the needs of disabled people, many of them older Americans.
In the last newsletter I wrote about sugar addiction. I said I’d slipped back into sugar consumption after a very long time without it, and that I was going to give it up, again. I said I’d get back to you about how my detox went: Not well! I’ve been eating sugar almost every day as I travel from one gas station convenience store to another, from one drive through coffee shop to another. Canned ice coffee? Very sweet. A little muffin top? Nearly all sugar, and oil. I haven’t felt bad about it at all. But I know it's not good for me, and I’m going to try again to go without it. Meanwhile, I hope your experiences with sugar this month are better than mine.