Robert Frost once said that he could sum up everything he’d learned about life in three words: it goes on. I recently visited a place high in California’s White Mountains where life goes on...and on....for 40 centuries.
Not many people know about the White Mountains. They take their name from the white dolomite bedrock that dominates their deceivingly docile landscape. They rise in the shadow of California Sierra Nevada Mountains. But unlike the saw tooth Sierras that have captured the imagination of visitors from around the world, the White Mountains exist in virtual anonymity.
Fast forward two years. I’m driving up highway 168, a two lane mountain road that rises to over 10,000 feet, into the White Mountains. Having finished the Bishop 100k for the second time, I decided to capture a glimpse of this solitary place on my way home. I continued driving for 30 miles, gaining elevation nearly every mile. I’m now driving toward Schulman Grove. When I arrive I get out of my car, then step into another world.
Around me is a sprawling forest of trees that look haggard and remotely alive. These trees are more than 4,000 years old. Unlike other trees that grow from the soil of the land, these trees appear to cling to the hard, rocky mountain top with a grip stronger than life itself.
Even the dead trees remain defiant, not willing to yield their fate to the foreboding mountain. They remain standing for hundreds of years. The trees that have finally fallen and lay on the ground beneath me are said to be 10,000 years old.
Those that are still alive were born two thousand years before Christ himself. They rise, twisting from the barren landscape, into an environment that destroys all other life forms, including bacteria, insects and other predatory pests. With winds that reach more than 160 miles an hour and little if any rainfall, moisture levels here plummet to one half of a millimeter, the lowest level recorded on the planet.
What would it be like to live to be 4,000 years old? To survive longer than any other single thing on the planet? How big was this tree when Jesus was born? Or Moses? All I could do was wonder. Seconds pass, and I can’t wait any longer. I raise my hand and rest it on the ancient trunk. How many years was I touching? How many generations could I feel?