from the Great-Pyramid-is-about-4600-years-old dept.
Rachel Sussman has an interesting article at Nautilus about her nine year quest to find and photograph the oldest living things in the world. To qualify for inclusion, each organism must have gone through at least 2,000 years of continuous life as an individual. "I selected 2,000 years as my minimum age specifically to draw attention to the gentleman’s agreement of what “year zero” means. In other words, 2000 years serves both as an all-too-human start date, as well as the baseline age of my subjects," writes Sussman, an American fine art photographer. "The requirement of endurance on an individual level was an important consideration, because we all innately relate to the idea of self. This was a purposeful anthropomorphization that would further imbue the organisms with a reflective quality in which we could glimpse ourselves." Sussman went searching for 5,500-year-old moss in Antarctica, a 2,000-year-old brain coral in Tobago, an 80,000-year-old Aspen colony in Utah, a 2,000-year-old primitive Welwitschia in Namibia, and a 43,600-year-old shrub in Tasmania that’s the last of its kind on the planet, to name a few.
Sussman writes that one of her primary goals was to create a little jolt of recognition at the shallowness of human timekeeping and the blink that is a human lifespan. "Does our understanding of time have to be tethered to our physiological experience of it? writes Sussman. "The more we embrace long-term thinking, the more ethical our decision-making becomes." Sussman says that the dialogue with environmental conservation is a perfect example of the importance of blending art, science, and long-term thinking. "We hear these things like carbon-dioxide levels are rising. You hear "400 parts per million," and it doesn't really register what that means. But when you can look at this organism and say, "Wow, this spruce tree has been living on this mountainside for 9,500 years and, in the past 50, got this spindly trunk in the center because it got warmer at the top of this mountainside," there's something that's a very literal depiction of climate change happening right in front of you. It's observable. So I hope that that's going to be a way that people can connect to that as an issue."